Pediatricians Will Press Parents to Read to Infants From Day One

Jun 24, 2014 3:20 pm ET

June 24 (Bloomberg) -- An infant checkup with your pediatrician may now come with advice to read aloud to your baby -- and a children’s book.

Pediatricians should educate parents about the benefits of reading with their children starting in infancy, the American Academy of Pediatrics said today in a policy statement. To promote the importance of reading aloud to children from birth, the doctors’ group is joining with the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail program, book publisher Scholastic Inc. and Reach Out & Read, a nonprofit.

“These first days, weeks and months of life are critical,” Hillary Clinton said today at a conference sponsored by the foundation in Denver. “Those of you who have ever read a bedtime story or had a conversation with a toddler or engaged in singing songs know what it’s like when those faces light up.’”

Research on early childhood and brain development has long shown the importance of speaking and reading to infants for later success. Disparities in the vocabulary shared with children in low-income families, who hear 30 million fewer words by the time they’re 3 years old, has been cited by researchers as a leading cause of the gap in school success.

Integrating this information in the medical setting may close the gap, said Dipesh Navsaria, medical director of the Wisconsin chapter of Reach Out & Read, a Boston-based group that trains medical providers to give advice to parents on reading and provides books to send home with parents.

Doctors’ Role

Advice from doctors increases parent-child interactions, improves the language skills of children and raises a child’s readiness for school, according to research focused on Reach Out & Read’s program cited by the pediatricians’ policy recommendation.

Scholastic will donate 500,000 books to the effort, Clinton said today in Denver. The books will be in English and Spanish and designed to be easy for children to hold, Kyle Good, a spokesman for New York-based Scholastic, said in a phone interview.

“This effort is absolutely at the core of Scholastic’s mission,” Good said. “We want every child to be a great reader, and we know it starts very early. The brain develops more rapidly between ages zero and three than any other time of their lives, and getting this jump-started for families that might not otherwise have books is critical to helping children in school and beyond.”

Just telling parents to read with their child isn’t enough, said Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The Reach Out & Read model, which has been adopted at more than 5000 pediatric care sites, includes training for providers on appropriate activities and interactions around reading.

“They may need some assistance in figuring out how to do that,” Navsaria said in a telephone interview. “It’s not just a book give-away.”

Too Small to Fail, a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Next Generation, will develop materials for parents with the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of the effort.