Although it has been standard for years in some families for parents to read aloud to their children from birth, not all families do it, so the American Academy of Pediatrics for the first time Tuesday recommended early literacy education.
“The importance and value of reading is something we have known for a long time,” said Diego Chaves-Gnecco, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “The issue is that there are disparities among families, whether due to a lack of resources or just being unaware of the importance of reading, and our role now as pediatricians is to emphasize how vital reading is to the development of every child.”
On average, 48 percent of parents nationwide reported reading to their children every day, according to the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health. Among families living below the poverty line, only 34 percent read to their children daily. Higher-income families, who earned at least 400 percent of the federal poverty threshold, did somewhat better: Sixty percent read daily to their youngsters.
The impact of these differences can be seen in children at a young age, with 1 in 3 American children entering kindergarten without the proper language skills. This difference continues to affect two-thirds of all children throughout elementary school, and 80 percent of those children who live in families below the poverty threshold fail to develop reading proficiency by the end of third grade.
Under the new recommendations, the academy suggests that pediatricians provide “developmentally appropriate books at health supervision visits for all high-risk, low-income young children.”
Programs such as Reach Out and Read are partnering with hospitals nationwide, including Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, to provide books to pediatricians to pass out at their offices. In Pennsylvania, the nonprofit group has helped to distribute more than 138,200 books annually.
“Being able to expose children to books at an early age is vitally important on many different levels” said Robert Cicco, a pediatrician at West Penn Hospital. Even though newborns might lack the ability to initially understand vocabulary and grammar, reading aloud still is imperative for cognitive development.
“Interactions early on in life, like hearing voices, looking at pictures, seeing their parent’s faces and mouths move, are crucial to early brain development,” Dr. Cicco said. “A lot of parents do not realize that every time you talk or play with children, you are doing so much to make baby smarter, stimulating their development.”
“This kind of interaction cannot be replaced by technology,” Dr. Chaves-Gnecco said. “Technology is wonderful, but nothing at all can replace the bonding between a parent and a child that occurs when reading a book.”
This sentiment came to life during the “Terrific Tales for Toddlers” event Tuesday at Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill.
More than 20 families with children ranging from newborns to 4-year-olds gathered in a semicircle to listen to a set of barnyard-themed stories. As the two librarians at the front of the room brought the words on each of the pages to life through a variety of different accents, animal sounds and rhyming words, the children gleefully clapped their hands, giggled and smiled in response.
“Enthusiasm is a key component in getting children excited about reading,” explained librarian Kristin Keller. “Parents have to remember that reading is everywhere, even when you are driving in the car with your child, point out signs or billboards you pass by and encourage them to read them aloud.”
One mother, Richa Buddineni of Squirrel Hill, who was there with her toddler daughter, confirmed the importance of reading. “The earlier you start reading with your children the better. The increase in my daughter’s vocabulary has been amazing; she even speaks with correct grammar.”
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