Reading to Children from Birth an 'Essential Part of Their Care,' Says Pediatricians

( [email protected] ) Jun 25, 2014 02:50 PM EDT
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement encouraging literacy promotion and calling for pediatricians to advise all parents about the many benefits of reading aloud.
Research shows that children who are read to regularly from a young age perform better academically. (AP)

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced a new policy that encourages pediatric doctors to advise parents to read aloud to their infants from birth.

The New York Times reports that the group, which represents 62, 000 pediatricians across the country, promotes the policy because a crucial part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child's life, and reading to children dramatically increases vocabulary and other social and emotional skills.

"Reading with young children is a joyful way to build strong and healthy parent-child relationships and stimulate early language development," Dr. Pamela High, a pediatrician and professor at Brown University's Alpert Medical School, told The Huffington Post.

"It should be there each time we touch bases with children," said High, who authored the new policy. She recommends that doctors tell parents they should be "reading together as a daily fun family activity" from infancy.

"The benefits are so compelling that encouraging reading at check-ups has become an essential part of care," she added.

However, most parents do not read to their children as often as researchers believe is necessary in developing the pre-literacy skills that help children academically once they are old enough to attend school.

Only one-third of young children in poverty are read to every day, according to data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children's Health. Even among kids whose family incomes are four times greater than the federal poverty level, 40% don't get a daily dose of reading, the survey found.

In addition, more and more children have access to smartphones and tablets, worrying some that soon, reading aloud will fade into oblivion.

"The reality of today's world is that we're competing with portable digital media," said Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician in Orangeburg, N.Y. "So you really want to arm parents with tools and rationale behind it about why it's important to stick to the basics of things like books."

To combat this, Dr. High encourages parents to follow the "5 Rs" of early education: reading with their children daily as part of a set routine; rhyming, singing and cuddling with them; creating routines and regular times for meals and sleep; rewarding them for their efforts and successes; and fostering relationships that are reciprocal and nurturing. Parents should make daily reading a part of their regular, set routine.

According to the L.A. Times, this new policy has won the backing of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who announced Tuesday that children's book publisher Scholastic would donate more than half a million books toward the effort.