The American Academy of Pediatrics is announcing Tuesday a new policy that scientists have known for years and mothers have sensed for decades. Reading aloud to kids, early and often, is immensely beneficial in boosting their future intelligence and language skills.
Perhaps the earliest and most compelling evidence that reading strengthens kids’ faculty of language is a study conducted in 1995, which lasted two and a half years and tracked how often parents read to their kids each month. The team extrapolated their findings to age 4, at which point they discovered a startling truth: Kids from professional parents would be exposed to 30 million more words than those from welfare parents. Even as toddlers, it seemed, success was forecasted for life.
Now the Academy, which is represented by 62,000 doctors nationwide, is advocating its physicians to extol the benefits of reading aloud at each doctors’ visit parents make with their baby. Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy, told The New York Times that this practice “should be there each time we touch bases with children.” Parents ought to include reading as a “daily fun family activity” that begins as early as infancy.
In truth, the new advice isn’t intended for the families that already read to their kids — the higher-income, professional families, in other words. Low-income families, whose priorities involve, to a greater extent, putting food on the table and making sure their kids are clothed, may have more difficulty finding the time or resources to make reading a priority. This is the first time the Academy, which also sets standards on circumcision and doles out advice on breastfeeding, has announced a reading-related policy.
Under the new policy, parents are encouraged to view reading to their kids as less a chore and more of a bonding experience. It may also reduce the headache of spending a dozen or so hours each day reverting to baby talk. For low-income parents, the experience provides a time to interact that accomplishes two tasks at once. On the one hand, it gives parents added reason to get to know their child. But it also offers the children extended learning, past what they’re already getting at school. Education stops being isolated and starts being holistic.
One of the ultimate goals in the new guidelines is bridging the educational gap that results from big differences in income, especially as contemporary research is showing that gulfs begin to form as early as 18 months. And it only begins to widen as kids grow older and place into gifted or remedial programs — and to say nothing of so-called “summer setback,” in which economically advantaged kids keep learning between grades and low-income students flat line, or even regress.
“If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right, we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation,” Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, told the NY Times. Navsaria is currently involved with Reach Out and Read, as its medical director. The nonprofit literacy group involves some 20,000 pediatricians and gives books to low-income families.