May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A National Effort to Read to Kids 15 Minutes a Day Needs Our Support | First Steps

SLJ1409w_FirstStepsRemember the adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Well, pediatricians have a new one: “A book a day builds your brain today!” OK, I just made that little ditty up. But there is a lot of research, and, now, a national effort, that supports just how vital reading really is.

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) made big news back in June 2014 when they announced that doctors will begin dispensing some new advice to parents of young children. During well-child visits, pediatricians will inform parents and caregivers that reading aloud, along with singing and talking to young children on a daily basis, contributes to brain development and kindergarten readiness. According to AAP’s president, James M. Perrin, “fewer than half of children younger than five years old [in the U.S.] are read to daily.” Combine this unfortunate statistic with the “30 million word gap” that contributes to a learning deficit, particularly among poor children, and the time was ripe for doctors to prescribe reading far and wide.

Now, you might be saying, “Well, yes, we know this.” Children’s librarians commonly offer similar recommendations during family story times, early literacy classes, and parenting workshops. They go out into the community to talk to literacy groups, childcare providers, etc.“What more do you want us to do?”

Well, for one, check out the website: “Read Aloud 15 Minutes.”

”Read Aloud 15 Minutes is a nonprofit organization that is working to make reading aloud every day for at least 15 minutes the new standard in child care,” according to the site. “When every child is read aloud to for 15 minutes every day from birth, more children will be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, more children will have the literacy skills needed to succeed in school, and more children will be prepared for a productive and meaningful life after school.”

In 2012, this group launched a simple call to action: Read Aloud for 15 Minutes, with a decade-long commitment: partnering with other organizations and businesses that are invested in child development and education to make reading aloud every day for 15 minutes the new parenting standard and thereby change the face of education in this country.

“Our goal is to have every library, hospital, daycare provider, literacy organization, and K–2 school sharing this message,” says cofounder and executive director Bob Robbins. He went on to say that projected statistics show “40 to 50 million babies will be born in the next decade in the U.S., and if nothing changes, then we know that 15 million of them will be ill-prepared for kindergarten.” Read Aloud for 15 Minutes is ambitious and enthusiastic with its goal: they want to aim their message at all socioeconomic levels, not just low-income ones. They are aiming for the proverbial sweet spot: systemic change.

So my hope for everyone who is reading this column? I want you to get your library to partner with this organization and help spread this message. Read Aloud for 15 Minutes has three main campaign “pulses” during the year. March is “Read Aloud” month, July is “Seize the Summer,” and coming up in October? “Let’s Talk! Nourishment of the Brain for Babies.” Perfect timing for you to sign up on their website under the “get involved” link and add yours to the growing list of partnering organizations before October’s campaign of “Let’s Talk!”

There is no financial commitment for partners. All you have to do is share the organization’s three monthly themes with your community. As of August, the organization had close to 1,000 partners with representation in all 50 states. Robbins stated that “we will rest when we have every library in the country involved in the campaign.”

So what are you waiting for? We could take that statistic of 1,000 partners and double or even triple it. And in the process, let’s showcase the power of children’s librarians by helping to spread this simple message, one child at a time.

LisaKroppLisa G. Kropp is the youth services coordinator at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, NY.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Karen Nemeth says:

    This is a great report on the Read Aloud 15 Minutes resources. One important thing to keep in mind is the research says families should read to their children in their home language. Librarians can play an important role in advocating for home language literacy AND for providing books in the languages needed in their community!

  2. Mary Anne Stanley says:

    Although it’s lovely to think of people reading illustrated children’s books to children, parents and other adults need not feel restricted to children’s books. When I was tiny, my grandfather, a very expressive reader, read aloud to me from the newspaper, and from his personal favorites, “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”, and 19th century American poets. I’m told I listened, rapt, although I don’t remember the newspaper. (I do remember Edgar Allen Poe in his voice.) Many adult materials provide rich vocabulary and, while not always intellectually accessible to a child, will provide a sense of closeness and mutual satisfaction to the child and the adult doing the reading.

    • Hi Mary Anne,
      Very well said. I know that my mother-in-law used to tell my children fabulous stories while they ate. She would make up these richly detailed adventure stories that just held their attention far longer than any book would have when they were younger. The bonding time they spent together, sharing stories and language, was priceless.

  3. Nancee Dahms-Stinson says:

    I second that and up the ante! After you have convinced your administration to sign on as a partner and laid out plans for promoting Read Aloud, seek out at least three other community partners and get them to sign up as Read Aloud partners! Suggestions: your local school district, your local hospital or health clinic (get those pediatricians to back you up!), your local United Way. In a small community? Ask a local bank to partner, making the connection between low literacy and poor economic health. Good luck!

  4. I agree the whole idea that education is reading books is not quite right. families should read to their children in their home language is part of it.

  5. Rachel Payne says:

    This sounds like a great campaign, but I do have a problem with suggesting to parents of babies and toddlers to read to their kids for 15 minutes a day without any kind of caveat. Do we know how they are presenting this suggestion to very young children? Many parents try it to do with a baby and toddler in one sitting. Of course children at this age have a short attention span. I am worried parents will feel like they’ve failed and give up when their baby cries or their toddler gets up and walks away. Or they may have 3-5 board books and it may only take 5 minutes to get through all of them! If we see reading aloud for 15 minutes as a goal to work towards with very young children, I would be more comfortable with it. It would great if the campaign also encouraged parents to sing and talk as well as read! Does anyone know how the campaign approaches these concerns with very young children? I looked around at the website and they were great at explaining the “why” of reading, but I couldn’t seem to find any tips about the “how.” Maybe that is where libraries and librarians come in!

    • Lisa Kropp says:

      Hi Rachel,
      YES! I love the way Read Aloud 15 minutes is marketed. They obviously spent a good amount of money creating eye catching graphics and have a great message that I think most early literacy proponents agree on – reading from the start is a terrific way to begin your child’s literacy life and success. I do agree with you that the campaign could now use some refining, and partnering, with libraries and trained librarians who can effectively communicate to parents and caregivers the roller coaster ride of what “reading” to babies and toddlers actually entails: playing, singing, talking, scribbling all equal reading. Thank you for making such a good point for us to remember. Parents are their own hardest critic sometimes, and we need to remind them that the 15 minute mark overall is a goal, and that small literacy bites add up cumulatively to more effective literacy gains.

  6. I understand your concerns. However, there are ways to read for 15 minutes or more to children of all ages. I’ve read to both of my children since I was pregnant with them. I used to read to each of them as babies while I nursed them. That’s a DEFINITE way to ensure a captive audience. :) I also sing at least one song per night to them. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with reading a book to a toddler while he plays. Even if he’s not staring at the book, he’s HEARING the language. That’s especially effective if language-rich books are read instead of simple, baby books.
    The key is spreading the word. Any literate parent or caregiver can pick up ANYTHING in print and read to a child. Even if it’s the directions on a box of mac n cheese, if it’s read with enthusiasm and expression, it will help grow those tiny brains. Sing age-appropriate songs (they don’t have to be baby songs but they shouldn’t have inappropriate language), tell stories, talk to children, read to them. Main point: expose them to language! Close that 30 mil word gap!! I’m actually in the very early stages of writing a grant to try to do just that for children of low SES.