The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a new policy that recommends parents read to their children from birth, reported the New York Times on June 24. In doing so, the APP has taken an official stance on literacy and early childhood development, and the 62,000 pediatricians who are members of the organization have, in a way, become ambassadors of this strong message that literacy development begins from birth.
“We teach all of our pediatric residents about the importance of talking to their patients about book sharing and giving out books at every well child visit,” said Dr. Leora Mogilner, assistant professor of Pediatrics and director of Reach Out and Read at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “When I became a mother, I read to my children from the time they were infants. Reading together was (and still is) a special time for us (my youngest is almost seven). It’s not just about promoting language development and literacy—it is also about bonding and having quality time together.” (Read Out and Read is a program that promotes literacy to families through pediatricians and other medical professionals. Mogilner started the program at Sinai in 1998.)
It can be argued the achievement gap starts before birth—the family and circumstance a person is born into—and the first 1,000 days are crucial in word recognition and development. An often-cited study about families and how they talk to their children called “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children” by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risely revealed that per year, a child belonging to a professional/white collar family would hear 11 million words versus a child from a disadvantaged/welfare family who would hear just 3 million.
According the New York Times:
“Low-income children are often exposed little to reading before entering formal child care settings. ‘We have had families who do not read to their children and where there are no books in the home,’ said Elisabeth Bruzon, coordinator for the Fairfax, Virginia, chapter of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, a nonprofit program that sends visitors to the homes of low- to moderate-income families with children ages 3 to 5.”
While reading to children from birth will not close the achievement gap alone, says Mogilner, she says it is a step in the right direction. “We know that children who are exposed to books from an early age have improved language development compared to those who are not read to from an early age.” She goes on to say that most of the mothers she interacts with “are receptive to the guidance we give them about reading to their infants and young children, and they definitely love receiving a book at each visit… When parents come for return visits, they always tell me which book their baby enjoyed and they love helping select a new book.”
At the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America that took place in Denver, Colorado—the same day the AAP unveiled its read-from-birth policy—former-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the commitment between Scholastic Inc., AAP, Too Small to Fail, the Clinton Foundation, and Reach Out and Read called “Pediatricians Promote Reading to Children from Day One, 2014.” The partners have “committed to create a pediatric toolkit, which will include concrete tips and information that pediatricians can share with parents to promote the importance of talking, reading, and singing to children, ages zero to five,” according to the CGI website.
Within the CGI commitment, Scholastic has committed to donate 500,000 books to Reach Out and Read that will deliver the books to 2,000 pediatricians and promote the pediatric toolkit across the country. Too Small to Fail—”a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of America’s youngest children, ages zero to five, and prepare them to succeed in the 21st century”—is also developing materials to distribute to members of the AAP to help them emphasize the read-aloud message to parents.