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Helping Children Understand, Discuss, and Process the Election Through Books

A booklist produced jointly by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Reach Out and Read

Breaking News! The New York Times Sunday Review

Dear Reach Out and Read supporter,

 

I am writing to draw your attention to an article that ran last Sunday in the New York Times Sunday Review section, which cited Reach Out and Read as part of an important-and encouraging-trend that is big news for children and parents in this country, and should help and encourage us all in the work we do. "The Good News About Educational Inequality," was authored by two professors of education and a professor of social work.  In this piece, they discuss the apparent paradox that the performance gap between high-income and low-income children has begun to shrink, even though the economic inequality is worsening.  In other words, they explain, "Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s."

 

This improvement, they argue, is directly related to the parenting practices which help low-income children:  "What has changed is that low-income children are now getting more of what the political scientist Robert Putnam calls " 'Goodnight Moon' time" than they did in the 1990s. That's excellent news."

 

They go on to raise the question of how this came about, in the setting of increasing income inequality, and here is what they say: "We suspect that in part this happened because of the widespread diffusion of a single powerful idea: that the first few years of a child's life are the most consequential for cognitive development."  They point out that the achievement gap grew, in part, because of the ways that high-income parents "invested" in the cognitive development of their young children.  The article goes on:  "Why are low-income families now adopting these parenting practices? It may be partly a result of public information campaigns like Reach Out and Read...."  You can read the full article here. The authors are Sean F. ReardonJane Waldfogel, and Daphna Bassok.

 

 nyt sunday review

As you know, we've been doing Reach Out and Read for 27 years now, and we've had a widespread network for almost two decades and continue to expand rapidly.  Reading this article will give you a sense of how experts in other fields are measuring some of the most important outcomes that we are trying to affect every day in our exam rooms.  It's wonderful to see evidence that the education gap is narrowing, even if the income gap is not-that low-income children are coming to school with better skills and a better chance.  And it's great to see the efforts and dedication of all those parents acknowledged as the key factor that we know it to be-that "Goodnight Moon" time which does so much for children in so many ways.

 

When the authors of this essay cite us as one of the key interventions in getting out the message to parents, it's a recognition of the time and effort that you have put in to build and support this network, and to help pediatric primary care providers deliver the message, the anticipatory guidance, the modeling, and the books to so many parents all around the United States, to help them do what they all want to do-give their children the best possible start.

 

As the authors say of Reach Out and Read and Too Small to Fail, "these campaigns represent an effort to ensure that our knowledge about the unique importance of early childhood helps everyone. Like a new medical innovation that is first adopted by the wealthy but then becomes commonplace, the emphasis on public and private investments in young children has helped turn a benefit for the rich into an equalizing force in society."

 

We want to celebrate this news with you, our partners, and our supporters-above all, to celebrate what parents are doing for their children, and the ways that the children's skills are improving-though, as the article points out, there is still a long way to go, and educating parents needs to be part of larger initiatives to reduce inequalities and disparities. We are proud to be acknowledged as part of this good news, and eager to work with you and your networks-and through them with families and clinicians-to go on making things better.

 

Warmly,

Perri Klass, M.D.
National Medical Director
Reach Out and Read 

 

Written by Perri Klass at 00:00

Bedtime Stories for Young Brains

NY Times article

Ed. Note: This guest article, written by Perri Klass, M.D., was originally posted in the New York Times on August 17, 2015. The original article can be viewed here.

A little more than a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

That means pediatricians taking care of infants and toddlers should routinely be advising parents about how important it is to read to even very young children. The policy statement, which I wrote with Dr. Pamela C. High, included a review of the extensive research on the links between growing up with books and reading aloud, and later language development and school success.

But while we know that reading to a young child is associated with good outcomes, there is only limited understanding of what the mechanism might be. Two new studies examine the unexpectedly complex interactions that happen when you put a small child on your lap and open a picture book.

This month, the journal Pediatrics published a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in 3-to 5-year-old children as they listened to age-appropriate stories. The researchers found differences in brain activation according to how much the children had been read to at home.

Children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of brain areas in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This brain area is "a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation," said the lead author, Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

This region of the brain is known to be very active when older children read to themselves, but Dr. Hutton notes that it also lights up when younger children are hearing stories. What was especially novel was that children who were exposed to more books and home reading showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association, even though the child was in the scanner just listening to a story and could not see any pictures.

"When kids are hearing stories, they're imagining in their mind's eye when they hear the story," said Dr. Hutton. "For example, 'The frog jumped over the log.' I've seen a frog before, I've seen a log before, what does that look like?"

The different levels of brain activation, he said, suggest that children who have more practice in developing those visual images, as they look at picture books and listen to stories, may develop skills that will help them make images and stories out of words later on.

"It helps them understand what things look like, and may help them transition to books without pictures," he said. "It will help them later be better readers because they've developed that part of the brain that helps them see what is going on in the story."

Dr. Hutton speculated that the book may also be stimulating creativity in a way that cartoons and other screen-related entertainments may not.

"When we show them a video of a story, do we short circuit that process a little?" he asked. "Are we taking that job away from them? They're not having to imagine the story; it's just being fed to them."

We know that it is important that young children hear language, and that they need to hear it from people, not from screens. Unfortunately, there are serious disparities in how much language children hear - most famously demonstrated in a Kansas study that found poor children heard millions fewer words by age 3.

But it turns out that reading to - and with - young children may amplify the language they hear more than just talking. In August,Psychological Science reported on researchers who studied the language content of picture books. They put together a selection from teacher recommendations, Amazon best sellers, and other books that parents are likely to be reading at bedtime.

In comparing the language in books to the language used by parents talking to their children, the researchers found that the picture books contained more "unique word types."

"Books contain a more diverse set of words than child-directed speech," said the lead author, Jessica Montag, an assistant research psychologist at the University of California, Riverside. "This would suggest that children who are being read to by caregivers are hearing vocabulary words that kids who are not being read to are probably not hearing."

So reading picture books with young children may mean that they hear more words, while at the same time, their brains practice creating the images associated with those words - and with the more complex sentences and rhymes that make up even simple stories.

I have spent a great deal of my career working with Reach Out and Read, which works through medical providers to encourage parents to enjoy books with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers. This year, our 5,600 program sites will give away 6.8 million books (including many to children in poverty), along with guidance to more than 4.5 million children and their parents. (The group also provided some support to Dr. Hutton's research.)

Studies of Reach Out and Read show that participating parents read more and children's preschool vocabularies improve when parents read more. But even as someone who is already one of the choir, I am fascinated by the ways that new research is teasing out the complexity and the underlying mechanisms of something which can seem easy, natural and, well, simple. When we bring books and reading into checkups, we help parents interact with their children and help children learn.

"I think that we've learned that early reading is more than just a nice thing to do with kids," Dr. Hutton said. "It really does have a very important role to play in building brain networks that will serve children long-term as they transition from verbal to reading."

And as every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual. It's what makes toddlers demand the same story over and over again, and it's the reason parents tear up (especially those of us with adult children) when we occasionally happen across a long-ago bedtime book.

 

Written by Perri Klass at 10:35

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