These days, it is not uncommon for babies to learn to swipe a smartphone before they can turn a page. As technology becomes ever more present in our daily lives, the traditional practice of reading aloud to babies and children may be dwindling within some families.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, one of the most trusted sources on children’s health, recently announced a new policy asking its members to talk with parents and caregivers about the benefits of reading aloud to children from birth.

The professional association’s focus on physicians is due, in part, to research showing the important role they play when counseling parents at well-child visits. Research shows that parents who receive physician counseling about reading aloud are more likely to read to their babies and children than parents who don’t get this information from their child’s doctor.

The advantages of this practice cannot be understated. We know that 700 new brain connections are formed each second during the first two years of life and that brain development is 90 percent complete by the age of 3.

This means that reading aloud to children as soon as they’re born is one of the most important things parents and caregivers can do to encourage brain development in infants and to help young children develop the cognitive, language and social-emotional skills needed to succeed in school and beyond.

In its first time weighing in on early literacy practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics will help ensure that parents across the U.S. will continue to hear this message during each visit to their child’s doctor.

Research has shown that reading to a child – in addition to talking to him or her – is very important in increasing the number of words that a child hears in his or her earliest years of life. Having just 20 books in a child’s home has a significant impact on lifelong learning.

As well, children who are read to at least three times a week for 20 minutes are more prepared for school. Since a child’s reading ability in school is one of the most important predictors of graduating from high school and future career success, this is particularly significant.

Children who are “school ready” are more likely to have higher academic achievement, which then leads to better social, economic and health outcomes.

On the other hand, children who are less prepared for school because they were not read to may have poor school performance. This can have several negative effects, including poor health behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol use and violence.

Not only does reading aloud have a protective effect on children and prepare them for success, but it also enhances trust and bonding between parents and caregivers and children. This is especially important given that a child’s concept of trust and bonding is largely built within the first two years of life.

In Maine, the Raising Readers program is sending the same message as the American Academy of Pediatrics. For the past 14 years, health care providers have helped make sure that every child age 0 to 5 is given a small library of books through the Raising Readers program so they grow up being read to from birth.

Generously funded by the Libra Foundation, Raising Readers works with hospitals, birth centers and medical practices to get books into the hands of all Maine children, and it reminds health care providers, like me, to counsel families about the importance of reading aloud for children’s development. Over the years, the program has reached more than 214,000 children in all 16 counties and has given out well over 2 million books.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy validates the Libra Foundation’s vision in funding the Raising Readers program and reinforces its continued importance throughout the state. The professional association has now endorsed a message that Maine providers have been promoting for many years – reading to a child can never begin too soon.

I want to thank all the providers, clinical staff and practices that spread this important message to families. Most importantly, I want to thank the parents and caregivers across Maine who make reading aloud part of a child’s daily routine.

That Maine is consistently ranked in the top five states in the nation for parents reading aloud to their children is a great accomplishment that we should all be proud of. So, keep it up and happy reading!

— Special to the Press Herald

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