As parents, we all want the best for our children. We make sure they have food, clothing and shelter, and we provide them with a nurturing environment in which they can learn, grow and thrive. Learning begins at birth, and one of the greatest things we can do to stimulate their development is to read to them. I remember rocking my infant daughter, and reading her “Goodnight Moon” before I put her to bed each night. I loved the way the words rhymed, how she would listen to the story, and watch me read to her.
Looking back, I read the book in an effort to soothe and calm her before bed, not realizing that this act would actually help form connections in her developing brain and encourage the development of cognitive skills that she would need to learn to read when she entered kindergarten. Research has shown that the first five years of life offer a critical window for learning, with 90% of a child’s brain being formed within that time period, and over 700 new neural connections are formed every second.
In addition, the more parents speak and read to their children, the greater the size of their vocabulary, which translates to a strong foundation of language and the development of the skills needed to learn to read in kindergarten. By reading with your child, you are not only exposing them to new vocabulary, but are providing them with one-on-one attention and a soothing, nurturing environment. It has been shown that emotionally stable environments in the first few years of life also promote healthy brain development by decreasing the child’s exposure to toxic stress.
In addition, the positive experience with reading will help the child develop a love of books and reading later in life. When children are not exposed to books early in life, they may lack a set of skills that are needed to learn to read. It is important that when entering kindergarten children have developed an awareness of letters and the sounds they make, that they know which way to hold a book, and that they know the words in the book go along with the pictures.
When unprepared to learn to read, the child may face struggles with literacy at an early age which may increase with time and ultimately contribute to school failure. As a doctor and a parent, I know the importance of reading to young children. Learn more about Nationwide Children’s reading initiative, Reach Out and Read. Through this effort our pediatricians prescribe more than 50,000 new books each year.
Nicole V. Caldwell, MD, is a staff physician in Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Section of Primary Care Pediatrics and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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