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El día de los niños/El día de los libros: Celebrating the Literacy of Hispanic Children

El día de los niños, or Children’s Day, is both a day to celebrate children and to bring awareness to some of the challenges that children face around the world. The National Research Center for Hispanic Children & Families (the Center) honors both of these aims with its mission to improve the lives of low-income Hispanics children and families.

An American version of the holiday was founded called El día de los libros, or Book Day, to support the literacy of children. Since that time, the two holidays have been celebrated together in Hispanic communities across the U.S. For El día de los niños/El día de los libros, the Center is providing snapshots of the languages and literacy milestones of Hispanic children at key stages in children’s development: infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. Through these snapshots, we focus on some specific ways to build literacy skills and promote academic achievement among Hispanic children. Given that Hispanic children make up one in four of children in the U.S., and by 2050 are projected to make up one in three of all U.S. children, how Hispanic children fare in their language and literacy development will have a profound impact on the social and economic well-being of this country.

infantInfancia / Infancy (Ages 0-2)

Literacy starts at birth. It is critical to provide infants with language and literacy-rich environments for their language development. Language and literacy-rich environments for babies and toddlers might mean keeping reading materials on hand, establishing a regular time and place for daily read-aloud sessions, such as before bed or during bath time, and talking frequently to children. Many Hispanic families provide children with language- and literacy-rich environments, experiences, and interactions. However, research shows that low-income Mexican-American toddlers experience fewer pre-literacy activities in the home.[1] For low-income Hispanic children, it is important to target multiple aspects of the language and literacy-environments, including the quality of parents’ engagements with their children in language and literacy activities, and the provision of age-appropriate learning materials, such as books and toys, by the first year of the child’s life.[2]

early childNiñez / Early Childhood (Ages 3-6)

The period of time prior to starting kindergarten is critical for children’s future academic success. Many Hispanic parents do early literacy activities at home with their preschool-aged children. For instance, of all 3- to 5-year-old Hispanic children not yet in kindergarten, 90 percent of their parents read to them at least once a week and 97 percent were taught letters, words, or numbers. However, Hispanic parents as a group, are about half as likely to read daily to their children compared with non-Hispanic white parents. Accordingly, there is a real opportunity for Hispanic parents to increase the amount they read to their children and promote early language and literacy skills that can help their children get a strong start in school. Supporting Hispanic parents to promote these skills is critical.  Effort to do this includes Abriendo Puertas, a parent engagement program for Latino parents with pre-school aged children, which Child Trends found led to the adoption of parenting practices that enhance preschool children’s learning and preparation for school; Raising A Reader (RAR), an early-literacy promotion program that encourages shared book-reading between children and parents, which Child Trends found has established strong emerging evidence for the effectiveness of its program model; and Reach Out and Read, an organization of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms, which research found that participating parents are up to four times more likely to read aloud to their children.

school agedNiños de edad escolar / School-aged Children (Ages 6-12)

Elementary school is the time for children to become more independent in regard to language and literacy, such as learning how to read by oneself. These skills are critical for future success; indeed, students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times as likely not to graduate high school on time. Unfortunately, reading scores of Hispanic students in fourth grade still lag behind their non-Hispanic white peers. One of many potential routes to supporting the literacy skills of Hispanic children at this stage includes schools’ supporting children and their families who speak another language at home besides English. The majority of kindergartners who are learning two languages at the same time are Latino.[3] Children who are dual language learners may show uneven progress in English and Spanish-language development during early childhood and elementary school. Yet, being an adult who is proficient in multiple languages may offer future advantages in the workforce. In order to support students whose primary language at home is Spanish, schools might increase vocabulary instruction in English and expand bilingual instructional approaches. Parents can consider ways to support the development of Spanish and English, by reading books in both languages, or developing play groups for children who speak Spanish and English.

gradAdolescencia / Adolescence (Ages 13 -18)

Hispanic teens value literacy; in a study of a predominantly low-income Hispanic middle school, 72 percent of the students indicated that they read as a leisure activity, which is about the same percentage as white students in high-income schools.[4]  Research connects leisure reading with academic success. Hispanic students value education; more Hispanic teens think that a college education is important and more enrolled in college upon graduating from high school than their white counterparts. Supporting Hispanic high school and college students to achieve their literacy goals is critical to their future success.


There are many online resources for schools, libraries, and families to plan El día de los niños/El día de los libros activities. El día de los niños/El día de los libros does not only last the one day: it can operate as a call-to-action for schools and libraries to ensure that they are doing the critical work of reaching Hispanic families and youth and providing them with the resources they need to support their children’s language and literacy development.

Eliza Brown


[1] Guerrero, A. D., Fuller, B., Chu, L., Kim, A., Franke, T., Bridges, M., & Kuo, A. (2013). Early Growth of Mexican–American Children: Lagging in Preliteracy Skills but not Social Development. Maternal and child health journal17(9), 1701-1711.

[2] Rodriguez, E. T., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Spellmann, M. E., Pan, B. A., Raikes, H., Lugo-Gil, J., & Luze, G. (2009). The formative role of home literacy experiences across the first three years of life in children from low-income families. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology30(6), 677-694.

[3] A nationally representative sample of U.S. children who were born in 2001 were assessed at 24 months of age. At that time, children with Mexican heritage were 64 percent of children whose families used at home a “heritage language” only, and 51 percent of children whose families used English plus a heritage language. Winsler, A., Burchinal, M. R., Tien, H-C., Peisner-Feinberg, E., Espinosa, L., Castro, D. C., LaForret, D. R., Kim, Y. K.,& De Feyter, J. (in press). Early Childhood Research Quarterly

[4] Hughes‐Hassell, S., & Rodge, P. (2007). The leisure reading habits of urban adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy51(1), 22-33.

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