Books for babies: Reading to children is essential, from infancy on

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Parenting can be complicated, but it’s also as simple as the ABCs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced a new policy last month that calls for physicians to encourage parents to read to their children and give them books from the earliest age. Because becoming literate is a key component of a healthy and productive life, the organization believes advice about reading should be included with information physicians provide on what children should eat, what immunizations they should get and other aspects of their development.

The foundation for literacy can be laid long before a child can sound out words or follow the plot of a story, and early experiences should be both auditory and tactile.

Success can be as simple as holding a child on one’s lap while reading aloud. Even parents who cannot read well or are self-conscious about doing so can provide the necessary lessons, simply by pointing to pictures and talking about what they depict as they turn the pages.

Studies show that children develop an affinity for books when they are exposed to them when they are just months old — even if they are chewing on them or using them as hammers.

Naturally, the words matter, too. Reading to children enhances their vocabularies and other language skills, and it should be a daily activity, along with talking, singing, rhyming and other vocalizations that increase a child’s exposure to words and phrasing.

Some charitable organizations provide free books for families that cannot afford them, and the Pittsburgh region is rich in libraries filled with appropriate reading material for children of all ages.

Reading to a child can be incorporated into daily activities, doesn’t have to take much time and can be fun. Strickland W. Gillilan’s poem “The Reading Mother” paid homage to its significance when he wrote, in part:

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be —

I had a Mother who read to me.

That goes for Dad, too — and now it’s just what the doctor ordered.

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