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Maya Payne Smart

Maya Payne Smart

 Early Literacy Advocate & Author of Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six


Author and literacy advocate Maya Smart argues that to attain the consciousness, solidarity, and equity our society so desperately needs, we must be informed and deliberate in raising a nation of readers. Read More >

Smart speaks to audiences about the educational challenges facing our society’s children and how to overcome these obstacles. She focuses on research-based strategies for fostering literacy from birth and how to support families to raise thriving readers. She also addresses educational equality, learning loss, curriculum reform, and related topics. Her takes have been featured in numerous media outlets, including TIME, CBS Mornings, Forbes, and the Los Angeles Times

When her child went off to school, Smart was shocked to discover that a good education in America is a long shot, in ways that few parents fully appreciate. The current approach to literacy offers too little, too late for most children, because successful learning starts long before the school years. The brain architecture for reading develops rapidly during infancy, and early language experiences are critical to building it. For kids to fulfill their potential, parents must be better equipped to play their roles as first teachers and brain builders in the early years of life. Spreading this message has become Smart’s life’s work.

In her book, Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six, Smart outlines what it takes for children to become thriving readers, and how we can all invest in improving the learning, literacy, and life trajectories of the next generation. She focuses on making academic research about literacy accessible and easy to implement for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and other caregivers and concerned citizens. To help, she publishes new reading lists and family literacy activities weekly.

Smart brings deep experience and trusted credentials to the endeavor. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and a bachelor’s in social studies with honors from Harvard University. She now serves as affiliated faculty in Educational Policy and Leadership in the College of Education at Marquette University. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Author Maya Payne Smart on literacy guide for parents

Speech Topics

How to Give Your Child a Smart Start

Study after study shows that the brain architecture for reading develops rapidly during infancy, and early language experiences are critical to building it. Yet parents, who are children’s primary “teachers” in the pivotal first years of life, often don’t know what to do, when, or how. In this presentation, Maya Smart describes how reading unfolds from birth through the early elementary years and outlines what caregivers can do to nurture it at each stage. Audiences leave armed with information about the six parent levers for literacy success, plus a toolkit of easy and research-based ways to nurture their children’s language and literacy development from the start.

Inside America’s Reading Crisis, How You Can Help & Why You Should

The tragedy of poor reading achievement dipping to new lows in pandemic times is affecting the prospects of a whole generation—and of the society that will share their future. Neuroimaging data reveals that the verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance of Covid babies is much lower than pre-pandemic babies. They show reduced vocalizations, delayed language development, and impaired vocabularies, all undercutting their reading readiness. It’s critical to get all hands on deck to give all today’s kids a shot at the great equalizing and empowering force of literacy. In this keynote, Smart pairs information about cutting-edge research findings with inspiring stories of people within and outside of the education sector who’ve made it their business to champion reading for all. Audiences leave with the practical knowledge and inspiration to launch early literacy efforts from within their own spheres of influence.