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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Jul 28, 2014
07:57 AM

Physicians Advise Parents to Read to Children Daily

Family story time is just what the doctor ordered! The American Academy of Pediatrics wants physicians to urge early literacy at birth. Why the big push?

Physicians Advise Parents to Read to Children Daily

From Guess How Much I Love You to Goodnight Moon, books at bedtime are a ritual for many families. Aside from helping you and your child unwind, reading stories has many other benefits that aid with your kid's overall development.

To get more parents to read to their kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics released recommendations for physicians.

"Encouraging reading at checkups should be considered an essential part of care," says Dr. Stefani Hines, director of the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital in Berkley. "The statement emphasizes the importance of pediatricians talking to parents about how reading to their children is critical for brain development, language and literacy."

This is the first time AAP has made suggestions on early learning practices. Toni Hartke, director of Great Start Collaborative Wayne, says there is an important reason. 

The more words your child hears, she says, the more exposure she has to language and the more connections she can make. If those connections aren't made early enough, Hartke says, sometimes they never are.

The guidelines

The AAP offers five recommendations. For starters, pediatricians should advise parents that reading aloud to their kids enhances parent-child relationships and preps children to learn language and early literacy skills. Pediatricians should also counsel parents about shared-reading activities that are age-appropriate and offer language-rich exposure to books, pictures and the written word. The AAP also urges physicians to provide books to all high-risk, low-income kids, use a variety of options to support and promote these efforts and partner with other child advocates to help promote early shared-reading experiences.

"One of the things we're challenged with in Wayne County is getting the books into the homes," Hartke says. Groups like United Way and local Kiwanis Clubs are helping with that.

Beaumont participates in Reach Out and Read, a national program that promotes reading and literacy. Its physicians provide age-appropriate books to parents and kids at every well visit from 6 months to age 5, Hines says.

"Primary care doctors can directly observe language and emerging early literacy skills," Hines explains – and parent-child interactions.

Reading suggestions

Kaela Wright, a coordinator at Help Me Grow Wayne County – and a mom to two young girls – reads to her children daily.

"They are constantly stimulated, so it gives them a chance to just bring it in; take some of that stimulation out of the picture and just focus on the closeness together," Wright says.

Make reading routine, the pros say. Setting aside just 10 to 15 minutes per day, Hines notes, "promotes quiet family time and bonding – without a screen! – as well as literacy." Find age-appropriate books that keep your child's developmental level and attention span in mind, Hines adds.

"So for infants, the best books are likely to be hardback, durable books with lots of bright colors and few, if any, words." For toddlers: pictures and basic words are good. Books with rhymes are great for toddlers, too – and preschool kids.

Once it becomes routine, the kids start asking for it, Wright says. "They just love it. They just soak it up."

E-book vs. book

What about stories on a Kindle or iPad? Is it a better choice than the paper version?

"I love the physical book. I love the smell of a book," Hartke says. "I think it's really important to have a child see the book."

Plus, it's too easy to have the e-reader act like a TV – and the AAP does not recommend screen usage for children under age 2.

"On top of that, you are missing that social interaction piece. You are missing the ability to stop and help them with the comprehension factor," Wright says.

You're also missing tangible pieces, Wright says, including the sensory and fine motor skills that go along with flipping real pages.

Still, both Hartke and Wright agree: Reading to a child on a tablet is better than not reading at all. Balance is key here.

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