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Overview of Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children

A joint position of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

Adopted May 1998


This joint NAEYC/IRA position statement is endorsed by the following organizations: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association for Childhood Education International, Association of Teacher Educators, Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, Division for Early Childhood/Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Council of Teachers of English, Zero to Three/National Center for Infants, Toddlers, & Families.

The concepts in this joint position statement are supported by the following organizations: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of School Administrators, American Educational Research Association, and the National Head Start Association.


Learning to read and write is critical to a child's success in school and later in life. One of the best predictors of whether a child will function competently in school and go on to contribute actively in our increasingly literate society is the level to which the child progresses in reading and writing. Although reading and writing abilities continue to develop throughout the life span, the early childhood years--from birth through age eight--are the most important period for literacy development. It is for this reason that the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) joined together to formulate a position statement regarding early literacy development. The statement consists of a set of principles and recommendations for teaching practices and public policy.

The primary purpose of this position statement is to provide guidance to teachers of young children in schools and early childhood programs (including child care centers, preschools, and family child care homes) serving children from birth through age eight. By and large, the principles and practices suggested here also will be of interest to any adults who are in a position to influence a young child's learning and development--parents, grandparents, older siblings, tutors, and other community members.

Teachers work in schools or programs regulated by administrative policies as well as available resources. Therefore secondary audiences for this position statement are school principals and program administrators whose roles are critical in establishing a supportive climate for sound, developmentally appropriate teaching practices; and policymakers whose decisions determine whether adequate resources are available for high-quality early childhood education.

A great deal is known about how young children learn to read and write and how they can be helped toward literacy during the first five years of life. A great deal is known also about how to help children once compulsory schooling begins, whether in kindergarten or the primary grades. Based on a thorough review of the research, this document reflects the commitment of two major professional organizations to the goal of helping children learn to read well enough by the end of third grade so that they can read to learn in all curriculum areas. IRA and NAEYC are committed not only to helping young children learn to read and write but also to fostering and sustaining their interest and disposition to read and write for their own enjoyment, information, and communication.

First, the statement summarizes the current issues that are the impetus for this position; then it reviews what is known from research on young children's literacy development. This review of research as well as the collective wisdom and experience of IRA and NAEYC members provides the basis for a position statement about what constitutes developmentally appropriate practice in early literacy over the period of birth through age eight. The position concludes with recommendations for teaching practices and policies.

Go to:

Part 1: Statement of the issues and review of the research

Part 2: Statement of the position and recommendations for teaching practices and policies

Part 3: References

Part 4: Continuum of children's development in early reading and writing


This document is an official position statement of the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children