New prescription for parents: Read to your babies

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new policy statement recommending that parents and caregivers begin reading out loud to their children beginning in infancy.

Photo credit: Ester Cobe Photography,
Photo credit: Ester Cobe Photography,

When a parent takes their infant to the pediatrician for well child visits, doctors go over important recommendations for a child’s health and wellness. Thanks to a new policy recommendation, in addition to talking about vaccines, checking babies height and weight, and going over what baby eats, pediatricians will now be recommending parents read out loud to their babies beginning at birth.

A new partnership between the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Scholastic, Reach Out and Read, and Too Small to Fail is bringing important attention to the importance of reading to young children beginning at birth. If parents and caregivers begin reading to their children for just 30 minutes a day starting at birth, they will have been read to for over 900 hours by the time they enter Kindergarten! When reading is reduced to just 30 minutes a week, children loose over 770 hours of reading time and go to Kindergarten with just 130 hours of reading experience. Unfortunately, national data has shown that less than half of children under the age of 5 are read to daily by a parent or caregiver.

As Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail, emphasized this when she stated, “Only about half of parents of young children are actually reading to their children from the earliest days of their children’s lives. It would be shocking if you said only half of parents are feeding their children, or putting them to sleep, but we know that [reading and singing to children] are just as important. They’re critical to brain development and language development and have a lifelong impact on health.”

The research is, in fact quite clear. National data tells us that young children whose parents read to them, tell them stories, sing songs with them and simply talk with them on a regular basis develop larger vocabularies, become better readers and perform better in school. In fact, the link between early literacy and later reading success is so strong, that there is a tight correlation between children’s vocabulary at three years old and their reading level in third grade.

The AAP’s new policy paper highlights that, “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.” The policy paper also recommends that doctors counsel parents about the importance of reading aloud, beginning at birth, to both build early literacy skills and to further enhance parent-child relationships and provide books to low-income, high-risk young children.

Michigan State University Extension has focused on literacy development as a key priority area for the children and youth of Michigan, distributing over 200,000 books in Michigan since 2011 through partnerships with The Molina Foundation and First Book. This summer, Michigan State University Extension and the Molina Foundation will again partner to distribute over 40,000 books to at-risk children and youth in Michigan. Research shows that when children do not read during the summer they loose an average of two months of grade level equivalency, returning to school further behind and needing more remedial work to catch up to grade level. Simply having access to books is commonly cited as a barrier to reading at home for the nation’s low-income, high-risk children.  National data shows that 60 percent of low-income families have no books in their home at all.

Learn more about what you can do to help your infant, toddler and preschoolers be ready to succeed when they enter Kindergarten by visiting the MSU Extension Early Childhood webpage or by attending an early childhood literacy program near you. Locations and times can be found on the MSU Extension Calendar of Events. MSU Extension also offers a selection of free, downloadable Family Book Sheets online. These book sheets expand on 35 of the most commonly recommended books for young children. The 4-H Military Family Book Sheets also expand on key concepts in books, targeted for families experiencing, returning from or preparing for deployment.

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