Digital Reading | May 22, 2023

Harnessing the Power of Family Reading to Solve the Learning Crisis


To solve the global learning crisis, we must get children reading in and out of school. Evidence shows that parental engagement is key and that digital reading technology can help.

Because of BookSmart, caregivers and parents are increasingly getting involved in the learning of their children. More and more parents tell me they continue reading to their children because they also learn as they read from BookSmart. I have also received feedback from parents and caregivers saying that they have learned some lessons from the stories which have made them improve on diet and hygiene.

Roseanne Ncebebe, Mamapreneur and owner of the Humanitarian Educational Centre in Kenya

From school holidays to education disruption and under-resourced school systems, we know that school time isn’t enough to ensure children read every day. Family reading fosters a positive learning environment, improving vocabulary, attention span, and communication from an early age and setting children up for success later in life. 

Caregivers are a child’s first educators and continue playing a crucial role in a student’s learning journey after school starts. Plus, key skills, including social-emotional and critical thinking skills, start developing before children begin formal education, with most four-year-olds using self-regulation strategies to manage their emotions. By age eight, as social and emotional functioning start stabilizing, it’s already possible to predict a child’s behavior pattern and mental health later in life.

When families read together, everyone wins. To end learning poverty and solve the global learning crisis, reading programs must support family reading and work with caregivers and educators to get where education systems can’t reach.

The family is the whole story […] That’s the secret… It’s engaging the family, and frequently, the mother is the family.

James J. Heckman, Nobel Prize-winning economist

Parents and caregivers want to be involved, they just need the right support

Our research in Kenya shows that parents and caregivers get excited about reading with their children. When asked about their child’s post-reading behavior, the vast majority of caregivers said that books made their child happier and more confident. After all, few things make a parent prouder than seeing their child succeed and find their path in life. It’s easy to see how families want to support their children’s learning.

Parents are key partners of teachers: Parents’ involvement has played an equalizing role in mitigating some of the limitations of remote learning. As countries transition to a more consistently blended learning model, it is necessary to prioritize strategies that provide guidance to parents and equip them with the tools required to help them support students.

Remote Learning During COVID-19: Lessons from Today, Principles for Tomorrow, The World Bank

Digital reading = scalable impact

In 2020, the pandemic made the world dramatically smaller for children, with school closures severely limiting opportunities to learn, socialize, and wonder. The effects of lockdowns and education disruption can become devastating for an entire generation who missed out on the opportunity to develop key skills and access essential learning materials at the time they needed them most. 

School disruption hits children in under-resourced communities the hardest. The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel reports that with longer school closures and less access to technology than in high-income countries, lower and middle-income countries experienced less adaptation to the challenges of the crisis.

The data is clear – immediate, collective action is imperative to reverse the learning crisis and give children the opportunities they need to read, learn, and reach their potential. Families, schools, government bodies, and organizations must come together to support learning.

A mother and son read together on BookSmart while sitting in their home

The solution is in the palm of your hand

There’s something else we learned during the pandemic – technology can help. With the right support, many schools and families could quickly adapt to remote learning and limit disruptions for their young learners. The World Bank reports that EdTech was key to continuing learning despite school closures and opened new opportunities for delivering education at scale.

The right tools already exist. And they’re everywhere. Today, there are over 15 billion mobile devices operating worldwide and in lower and middle-income countries, 80% of households own mobile phones. Parents and caregivers hold part of the solution to the learning crisis in the palm of their hands – if we harness its power, we can get children reading everywhere.

We know that caregivers want to give their children the best chance at a fulfilling life. I believe that through community partnerships, motivating and supporting caregivers reading with and to their children, we can change the course of the learning crisis.

Rebecca Chandler Leege, CEO of Worldreader

By leveraging mobile technology and family engagement, we can support families and communities where they are, providing access to reading and learning opportunities where school systems can’t reach.

The right to wonder

Not all technology and not all solutions are created equal. That’s why BookSmart is built to be an engaging, fun reading experience. A place to learn, grow, and wonder.

Children aged 3-12 and their caregivers can access culturally relevant, curriculum-aligned books and reading resources in English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Kiswahili, and several local languages. The reading experience is enhanced with fun learning activities and reading milestones, and caregivers can find reading tips that will build their confidence and help them support their young readers. 

Because we want to get all children reading to reach their potential, BookSmart will always be free and available for children and their families – anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

Mother and daughter read on BookSmart while sitting on their couch

Let’s get families reading! By supporting our work, you are part of the solution. Donate now to give caregivers in 100+ countries the support they need to read with and to their children.

➤ There are all kinds of families in the world, and while too many children don’t have a family to call their own, some of us grow up to choose one. If you’d like to support the learning of a child in your life, you can read with them for free on BookSmart