Children develop the skills needed for literacy and language before the age of three. But they aren’t formally taught those skills until they are of school age. So, how do parents set their children up to succeed scholastically? The answer is to read to them out loud, according to pediatrician Robert E. Burke, MD.
“During those first few years, you’re developing the capacity to learn,” he said. “The brain is kind of a blank slate that will be molded and developed. And reading is one of the most influential ways to accomplish that.”
The pediatrician said to think of it as giving your child a vaccine.
“If you could give kids something that would prevent school failure and that would prevent a lot of behavioral problems, you’d want to give it to everybody,” he said. “So, in order to be successful in school, you have to be able to read.”
Often times poor performance in school leads to poor employment, poor health and a lifetime of dependency, Dr. Burke said. Then that person has a family and perpetuates the cycle.
But that can all be avoided if parents simply take 15 to 30 minutes a day to read out loud to their child.
“You’re helping them develop skills for literacy at the same time that you’re teaching them language,” he said. “You’re also nurturing the relationship with the caretaker.”
Studies show that the more words a child hears, the faster they develop language.
Because some parents don’t have the funds to buy books for their young children, Scott & White initiated a program in 1998, funded by the Children’s Miracle Network and the Scott & White Health Plan, to help those families bring literacy to their homes.
“A new book is given to our patients at well child checkups from age six months to five years of age,” Dr. Burke said. “Along with the book, we also give a verbal prescription to read to their child for 20 to 30 minutes daily.”
Although age-appropriate books are the best to read to your child, the doctor said that anything you read is helping them develop skills for life and a stronger relationship with their caregiver.
“You can even use magazines or newspapers,” he said. “The reading material isn’t as important as the act of sharing the book.”
For more information about how to promote reading in your household, visit reachoutandread.org or ask your Scott & White pediatrician where you can get your free book.
Is your home literacy-friendly?
What my child is…
- My child has at least one alphabet book (e.g., Dr. Seuss’s ABC book).
- My child has magnetized alphabet letters to play with.
- My child has crayons and pencils readily available for writing and drawing.
What I or another adult do…
- I or another adult in the house read a picture book with my child at least once a week.
- I or another adult in the house read a picture book with my child at least four times a week.
- I or another adult in the house teach new words to my child at least once a week.
What I am…
- I am a good reader.
- I have a large vocabulary.
- I began to read picture books with my child before he or she was a year old.
Does your child have a favorite book? Share what books bring you and your child together for your 30 minutes of reading time.
About the author
Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.