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Positive Parenting Overcomes the Effects of Poverty on Brain Development

New research shows that positive parenting can overcome the effects of poverty on healthy brain development in adolescents.  In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Brody and colleagues described a neuroimaging study demonstrating that supportive parenting prevented the reduced growth of certain areas of the brain that occurred as a response to living in poverty.

Positive parenting and brain development

Numerous studies on the association of poverty with poor academic and psychosocial outcomes in childhood have pointed to the critical role of stress on brain development. Physical and social stress that often occurs during childhood in lower socioeconomic environments can influence the growth of the brain. In particular, there is evidence that development of the amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions that support learning, memory, mood and stress reactivity, is suppressed in disadvantaged children.

Brody et al conducted a neuroimaging study on 119 25-year-olds who had participated as adolescents in the Strong African American Families randomized trial (SAAF), a program designed to mitigate the negative effect of life stress on rural African American youths by encouraging positive parenting.  The intention of the study was to correlate the size of specific areas of the hippocampus and amygdala in these individuals, as determined by magnetic resonance imaging, with the number of years between the ages of 11 and 18 that they had lived under the federal poverty line. 

The results showed that, in the control population that had not been enrolled into the SAAF program, more time spent living in poverty was associated with smaller than average volume in areas of the amygdala and hippocampus. The good news was that this suppressive effect of poverty on brain maturation was prevented in those youths whose families had the benefit of the SAAF intervention. The promotion of positive parenting had conferred resilience to the stress of poverty. Importantly, this protective effect was detected at age 25 - it had lasted into adulthood. 

Interestingly, these positive results were achieved in a program serving the families of adolescent children. More than 95% of brain development occurs during the first six years of life, and the brain is particularly susceptible to the stress associated with poverty during this timeframe

Through the Reach Out and Read program, pediatric care providers are able to take advantage of their access to children during these early years. They encourage parents to spend time engaging with their young children through looking at books together starting in infancy,building the parent-child bonds that will alleviate the effects of adverse circumstances in the early years. 

This study encourages us that, through interventions that help parents to bring up their children in a positive, responsive way, it is possible to buffer against the consequences of poverty and low socioeconomic environments.  Leveling the playing field for disadvantaged children in this way can contribute to closing the achievement gap.

Written by Nikki Shearman at 08:32

Fables and Folklore: Stories that Teach Kids Lessons

A guest blog written by Rachelle Wilber, a freelance writer.

Today, fairy tales may just be something your kids want to hear over and over again before bedtime, but modern stories that are beloved by children like the wildly acclaimed "Frozen" can be traced back thousands of years. Some of the earliest and most recognized fables such as Aesop's Fables, originated around 550 BC. In times where wisdom, not academia, constituted education, fables were not just a form of entertainment, but a method of teaching. Children were given warnings, taught morals, and introduced to concepts such as enmity, forgiveness and love in a manner that was as memorable as it was entertaining.

Origins of Fables


People told one another stories before language had even been invented. Cave drawings prove that humanity's oldest ancestors communicated through story-like concepts, and as mankind evolved, symbols scrawled in stone became words that were interwoven to create characters and new worlds, all grounded in a meaningful story.

The best-known Western fables can mostly be attributed to a slave from ancient Greece named Aesop. Fables such as "The Lion and the Mouse" and "The Tortoise and the Hare" that are used today to teach children about the importance of diligence and discernment came from Aesop. The principles that underscored every fable was a formula that spread throughout the Western world and is evident in other famous fables and folklore such as the iconic Grimm's Fairy Tales and the deeply cherished, unforgettable stories of Hans Christian Andersen.

Folklore vs. Fable

Although the two words are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between "folklore" and "fables." Folklore is a story that has been passed down through generations orally. Folklore usually features people as its main characters and carries a large twist at the end, while fables usually involve animals or mythical creatures as its protagonists and deliver a specific moral.

In one sentence, a fable is a very real lesson taught through fantasy, and folklore is an entertaining story that changes from culture to culture, just like the people within them. You're never too old for fairy tales, and teaching children the most beloved stories of the past cultivates a love of history that can lead them down wonderful paths both academically and personally. Just like grandpa earned an online history degree, children can pursue their new interests throughout a variety of ways over the course of their lives.

Teaching Children through Fables

fables2Many parents are concerned that reading fantasy to their children might lead them to develop overactive imaginations or skewed perceptions of reality, but what's wonderful about fables, fairy tales and folklore is that they reach children on a level they're able to understand. Children possess the magical quality of being able to appreciate both the real and imagined equally. You can pick and choose - or even invent - fables that fit the specific themes in your child's life right now.

No matter which direction you go in, there is something wonderfully potent about hearing fables and folklore growing up that imbues childhood with a sense of wonder that forever lives in the back of our minds as memories and manifests itself in our choices.

Written by Reach Out and Read - Communications at 11:00

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

American Academy of Pediatrics Honors Dr. Perri Klass

Reach Out and Read National Medical Director, Dr Perri Klass, was honored for her "amazing impact on early childhood development" at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference in San Francisco last week.

perri awardDr. Benard Dreyer, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, presented the Arnold P Gold Foundation Humanism and Medicine Award, which recognizes "an exceptional pediatrician, who not only demonstrates clinical expertise but the humanistic qualities of integrity, compassion, altruism, respect and service."  Dr. Klass was selected for this award by the Council on Communications and Media Pediatrics for the 21st Century planning group for her dedication to her profession and the health of children and the impact that she has made through her writing, service as an educator, and leadership in promoting early literacy through Reach Out and Read.perri1

Dr. Klass is Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, where she is also Director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is also well known as an author of several books and for parenting advice in her column, "The Checkup," in the New York Times. "Dr. Klass is a great clinician," said Dr. Dreyer "…. But she is most famous for being one of the originators of the Reach Out and Read program that so many of us [pediatricians] know is one of the major evidence-based programs in primary care. . . . she is now the National Medical Director, really spearheading the spread and the support and the quality improvement of Reach Out and Read."



perri2In receiving her award, Dr. Klass spoke around the theme of "What the doctor sees, is what the writer knows - we live in a world full of stories" and talked about how, through Reach Out and Read, pediatricians have worked together to change and enlarge the practice of pediatrics. "When we give these books to our young patients, when we encourage parents to read with them and trust in the power of that time together, the power of that interaction, that back and forth,…we can help children find their voices, write their own stories and that can change the world."

Reach Out and Read is proud to have Dr. Klass as our National Medical Director, and congratulates her on receiving this prestigious award from her peers and colleagues.

You can watch the full presentation of the award on YouTube.

Written by Reach Out and Read - Communications at 11:00

Fill October with literacy-rich activities!

Check out our calendar below for filling October with literacy-rich activities! It is available for download here

 october calendar

Written by Reach Out and Read - Communications at 13:25

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