US doctors urge parents to read to babies

June 24, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan

A leading US doctors' group Tuesday urged parents to read to their children starting in infancy, in order to boost language skills in an age of screens and smartphones.

Pediatricians have long encouraged reading to children, but the guidelines are the first official policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics telling doctors to talk to parents about daily reading to their children, from the first year of life until kindergarten.

It also calls on doctors and policymakers to ease the burden on poor and working families by distributing kids' books for free to children in need.

Reading with "stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime," the AAP guidelines said.

Research has shown a stark divide among economic lines when it comes to reading—just one in three children in poverty are read to daily, resulting in "a significant learning disadvantage" when they get to school, the AAP added.

Even wealthier families do not always make reading a ritual, with 60 percent of those with incomes 400 percent of the poverty threshold saying they read to their children from birth to age five, according to a 2011-2012 survey.

Babies can benefit

Busy schedules are a constant obstacle, and some pediatricians are concerned about the widespread use of screen technology—from televisions to smartphones and tablets—which may be edging out reading time, too.

The AAP has previously said babies under age two should be as screen-free as possible, and that the best kind of learning takes place through unstructured, interactive play with humans and toys.

Very young babies can get benefits from reading, even if they do not seem interested, said Peter Richel, a fellow of the AAP and chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York.

"We can stimulate greater in these months and years," said Richel.

"I do see earlier word recognition, earlier phrases and sentence formation, and singing—I always recognize that in those who are exposed to daily reading."

In order to bridge the income gap, the AAP said it "supports federal and state funding for children's books to be provided at pediatric health supervision visits for children at high risk."

Speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver, Colorado, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she supported the new guidelines.

Clinton also announced that Scholastic, a leading publisher of children's books, would donate 500,000 books that pediatricians could distribute to families in need.

"By four years of age, children in lower-income families tend to have heard more than 30 million fewer words than in more affluent families. Thirty million. Because they hear fewer words, they learn fewer words," Clinton said.

"The word gap leads to an achievement gap that can have lifelong consequences."

Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea is pregnant, said she remembered seeing her daughter's face light up when she and her husband read to her as a child.

"Certainly we saw that when Bill and I were reading to Chelsea and we expect to do the same with our new grandchild coming in the fall," Clinton said.

Explore further: Doctors to parents: Start reading to kids early

Related Stories

Doctors to parents: Start reading to kids early

June 24, 2014
The nation's largest pediatricians' group says parents should read aloud to their children every day starting in infancy.

Study shows lower verbal test score for toddlers who play non-educational games on touch screens

May 3, 2014
-A recent study by pediatricians from the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York examined infants 0-3 years old that used touch-screen devices to determine if their use was of any educational benefit to infants and toddlers. ...

Screening out: What are parents doing to limit screen time for young children?

April 29, 2014
About 25 percent of parents who have children aged two to five say their children get three or more hours of entertainment screen time a day, well beyond recommended limits, according to a new poll from the University of ...

Picture books aren't just fun: Moms are exposing toddlers to rich information about animals

April 23, 2014
Children hear as much sophisticated information about animals when parents read picture book stories about animals as when they read flashcard-type animal vocabulary books, according to a new study from the University of ...

Recommended for you

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

Wonder why those happy memories fade? You're programmed that way

July 19, 2017
We'll always have Paris." Or will we?

A child's spoken vocabulary helps them when it comes to reading new words for the first time

July 19, 2017
Children find it easier to spell a word when they've already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University has found. The findings ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
In my limited experience, toddlers will want to hear the same story endlessly, their favourite. This is actually an important developmental process as what is happening in their brain is the combining of the book, the story in the book, the adult reading it, their expression, the words on the page and other related things.

To make these various elements easier to resolve they will want to hear the same story, so the story remains a constant while their minds gradually weave each of the other properties into it.

So don't think that they must learn the contents of books only. There are other things going on as well.

The book that got me going was 'the little train that could. I recall gradually being able to anticipate further and further ahead and then eventually getting a picture of the whole book and the whole story in my mind, at which point the book was no longer or interest :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.