United Way: First day of school looms – but thousands of children start unprepared

Latest News | Jan 18, 2016

Daily reading from birth vital to address literacy gap

With Australian government data showing 22% of children start school ‘developmental vulnerable’

in at least one key area such as language and cognitive skills, communication or general knowledge,

charity United Way Australia today highlighted simple actions to help children start school prepared.

While many parents believe it is the role of schools to teach children to read, many do not realise

that unless children start school with foundational skills – including knowing how to hold a book and

identify some letters – they may fall behind, and are likely to remain behind.


“The evidence is crystal clear now – the first five years of life are the most critical for a child’s brain

development – and parents are their child’s first teacher,” explains Kevin Robbie, CEO of United Way

Australia, which has just posted 60,000th children’s book to combat Australia’s school preparedness



“Many Australian communities have a cycle of low literacy and disadvantage. Parents who struggle

with reading themselves are less likely to buy their child books, or take them to a library or kinder.

Sadly, some children start school not knowing how to ‘operate’ a book.”


Children from ‘disadvantaged’ communities are more likely to start school behind, and less likely to

catch up, despite interventions. With low literacy correlated with a higher risk of unemployment,

United Way argues the life-long implications of children starting school unprepared is a whole-of-

community concern. The charity called for greater public awareness of parents’ seeing themselves as

their child’s first teacher and emphasised the importance of simple activities including daily reading

with children from birth to build the confidence and skills to thrive at school and in later life.


This month United Way posted out its 60,000th children’s book as part of its free monthly book

program for kids from birth until 5 years, in communities where a high percentage of children start

school ‘developmentally vulnerable or at risk’ according to the Australian Early Development



‘’Early childhood service providers tell us these free books open up a conversation with parents and

carers who simply don’t realise how important their role is as ‘first teacher’, or this time of life is for

their child’s future. The books are an entry point to spending quality time interacting with young



An evaluation of the program, which home-delivers free monthly age-appropriate children’s books

with resources for parents and carers, showed positive behaviour change at home, with children

asking to be read to more often and parents reading more with their children.


“The number of children starting school unprepared a national disgrace. We’ve got to start reading

regularly with kids early in life to stop the cycle of disadvantage in Australia.”


About United Way Australia: Established in the USA in 1887, United Way is now a global network of

1,800 secular non-profit organisations working to end community disadvantage. In Australia, United

Way focuses on improving early literacy and increasing youth employment in more than 35

disadvantaged communities via flagship initiatives that mobilise some of Australia’s largest

companies, social service providers and funders.