As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We make sure they have food, clothes, a warm bed to sleep in, and plenty of love. We kiss their skinned knees and help chase away their bad dreams. We take them to the park and the zoo, to doctor’s appointments and dance recitals.
We read to them.
To ensure children have the best in life – the best language skills, vocabulary, and the best chances for success – it is imperative that we read to them from the start. The first five years of life offer a critical window for learning, with rapid brain development that does not occur at any other time, according to Dr. Jay Berkelhamer, M.D., F.A.A.P, and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“In the first five years, consistent exposure to language and words helps connections in the brain multiply and solidify, as quickly as by the second,” said Berkelhamer, who is among the thousands of pediatricians nationwide who promote the importance of reading during well-child checkups through Reach Out and Read. “Reading in the beginning of life is a wonderful way to help prepare the brain to let the child learn more fully once at school. Books truly do help build better brains.”
Research shows that the more parents read and speak to their child, the greater the size of their child’s vocabulary is in the first few years – which translates to a strong foundation of language for kindergarten and beyond. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4. A recent study from Stanford shows that by as early as 18 months of age, “toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency.”
In addition to helping develop young brains, reading forms close bonds between parent and child. Reading aloud offers a “soothing, comfortable” experience for both parent and child, says Berkelhamer. The nurturing, one-on-one attention from parents while reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the same book over and over again,” Berkelhamer said. “Reading is the perfect way for a parent and child to share time together at a quiet moment in the day. I recommend that families incorporate reading aloud into their daily routines – sitting with you and a book should be part of your child’s day, just like brushing his teeth and taking a bath.”
Reading aloud to young children also helps build motivation, imagination, curiosity, and memory – skills that will benefit a child throughout his or her entire life.
“As a pediatrician, it is fun and rewarding to help parents understand how to make reading more enjoyable, especially in talking about associated story-telling,” said Dr. Thomas G. DeWitt, M.D., F.A.A.P., Director, Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “They light up when they realize that reading to their child can be so much more than simply reading the words on the page.”
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