Where Great Stories Begin

News, Events, and Updates from Reach Out and Read

Picking the Best First Book

A guest blog from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a U.S. pediatrician who participates in the national early literacy program Reach Out and Read and understands the importance of reading aloud to children of all ages.


After recognizing that reading to your child is one of the first brain-building activities to start routinely doing with your child, the next question is: which book?  Not all children's books are created the same: some are not very good at all, and others are mere vehicles for marketing to you and your children.  Yet the array of choices available at any public library or bookstore can be dizzying and bewildering.  How to choose?

 

When it comes to finding good books, your best bet is to make use of your expert local resources: your public librarian is usually well-versed in high-quality children's books for a variety of ages, cultures and interests.  They are more than happy to field your enquiries; not only can they recommend books in their collection, they can obtain books for you via interlibrary loan or even purchase them based on your requests!

 

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If you're looking to select books yourself, the most important question to ask is: "Does the book interest you?"  If the adult reading the book finds it interesting and engaging, there's a high likelihood the baby or child will as well.  Also, if the reader truly enjoys the book, he or she is more likely to read it with the kind of enthusiasm and expression that will in turn engage the baby or child listener.

 

Next, look at the images in the book; are they interesting and engaging?  This may range from beautiful artwork to complex images inviting the reader to linger over them to things inherently interesting to young children (e.g. baby faces, animals, etc).  As a child becomes older (after about age 2 years), does the text connect to images in a way that encourages language?  For example, does reading the story reference items in the images like colors or other features that build vocabulary and help a child develop skills in naming?

 

For some families, it can be important to find at least a few books in which the children look somewhat like themselves, celebrate similar holidays, speak the same languages, or eat similar foods.  I remember the joy with which my son pointed to a photograph of a little girl in a book of nursery rhymes and said it looked like his sister.  This is not a requirement, but children do deserve and delight to see other children with some aspects of their lives similar to their own.

 

Developmentally speaking, is the book's format appropriate?  Board books are designed for young children who do not yet have a "pincer" grasp developed - that pincer grasp is necessary to turn paper pages.

 

Finally, while these are good general principles to keep in mind, one never knows what books will take hold of a child's interest.  Sometimes the most unlikely-seeming choices will enrapture-and that's absolutely fine!

 

"We are not wise enough, we adults, to know what books will be right for any child at any particular moment, but the richer the book, the more imaginative, the more emotionally true, the more beautiful the language, the better the chance it will minister to a child's deep inarticulate fears."

                                    - Katherine Paterson, writing in The Horn Book, Jan/Feb 1991

 

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Written by Dr. Dipesh Navsaria at 08:15

How to Be Your Baby's First Teacher

Talk, Read and Sing to Your Baby from the Very First Day
Written by Dr. Amy Emerson, Pediatrician, Tulsa, Oklahoma at 15:05

Second Hand Screens

A guest blog from Reach Out and Read Co-Founder Dr. Robert Needlman about the importance of parents looking away from their screens and engaging with their young children. A version of this article first appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News.

Electronic media are everywhere, all the time.  More and more, screens touch every corner of our lives and the lives of our children. I can see that there are both benefits and downsides to this, but as a pediatrician concerned with healthy childhood development there is one aspect of our new ultra-connected lifestyles that particularly concerns me. It's a problem I call "second hand screens."

Consider this everyday sight: a young mother is pushing her infant down the street in a stroller.  It's a lovely day.  The infant is gazing up into his mother's face.  The mother is gazing at her cellphone. Like second hand smoke, second hand screens affect young children even though they aren't the users. 


still face experiment
Decades ago, Harvard researcher Ed Tronick published a series of studies of what came to be called the Still Face paradigm.  Parents (mothers, actually) were instructed to talk with their infants.  The babies would coo; the mothers would "woooo" back. Video cameras documented the joyous interaction, described as a dance.  Back and forth the partners would talk and play, now and then taking breaks when things got too exciting, then starting up again.  Then, at a signal from the research team, the mother would stop responding, making her face blank, "still." 

 

The baby's response, at first, was to act even more adorable, as if trying harder to recapture the mother's interest. Then, when the mother remained impassive, the baby would become angry, crying in rage. Then, when even that failed, the baby would slump back, defeated, looking depressed.  Babies whose mothers actually did suffer from depression did less flirting and protesting. Instead, they skipped right to "defeated." It was as if they knew - had learned - that mother wasn't to be counted on as a partner. These babies protected themselves by investing less emotional energy in the exchange, building walls against closeness and disappointment.

 

Second hand screens, I fear, are re-creating Tronick's still face experiment, except that nobody seems to be learning from it this time.   We don't yet have great science to demonstrate, beyond a doubt, the effects that screens and other new media have on children.  Some of those effects are likely to be positive; some, I'm pretty sure, are poisonous.  When compulsive screen use regularly interferes with parent-child communication, I think there is real reason for concern. We teach parents that second hand smoke hurts children.  Perhaps we also need to start talking about the risks of second hand screens.

Written by Robert Needlman at 16:00

Congress Recognizes the Importance of Pediatric Early Literacy Programs

ESSA AnnouncementWe're thrilled at the overwhelming bipartisan support for a bill that recognizes the importance of pediatric early literacy promotion. President Obama has just signed into law the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, titled the Every Student Succeeds Act (S. 1177), that seeks to ensure the provision of a quality education for all children.

Significantly, this bill authorizes the Reach Out and Read model in federal education policy for the first time. In signing the bill, President Obama talked about expanding access to early childhood education as one of its three aims. Increasingly, research shows that the foundation children need to succeed in school and beyond is built in the early years, from infancy. We are pleased that Reach Out and Read has been recognized as a leader in the field of early learning, and that our model, reaching families with young children through pediatric care, is recognized in this important legislation.

Inclusion of pediatric early literacy promotion in this act is fully consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement, published in 2014, recommending that pediatricians incorporate book promotion and literacy guidance as an essential element of pediatrics starting in infancy.

We have received amazing, bipartisan support on our journey to this point:  we are grateful to U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who have tirelessly supported early literacy services for children, and have been the leading advocates in the Senate for Reach Out and Read for over 15 years; to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D- MA-02), who has championed Reach Out and Read in the House for well over a decade; and to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), who were instrumental in ensuring support for pediatric early literacy intervention in the Every Student Succeeds Act in their roles on the education committees.

"Literacy is the foundation for learning. Developing and building these skills begins at home, with parents as the first teachers…..This initiative empowers parents to help their kids, and provides them with free books to get started." 

--Senator Jack Reed.

We believe that this act will bring us closer to our vision of a day when all children will know what it's like to explore a book in the arms of someone who loves them!

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How To Promote Positive, Responsive Early Childhood Parenting

A look at how to encourage families to adopt positive, responsive parenting practices using the framework proposed in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

 

It is widely accepted that our experience in the first 1,000 days of life sets the stage for later success and that America's growing achievement gap is best attacked by targeting the development of children from infancy. Given that parents or caregivers are the main influence in young children's lives, programs like Reach Out and Read that effectively provide parents with the information and tools they need to give their children the best start in life have a powerful effect on our communities and society.

The success of any intervention depends on getting people to embrace change, and this is a particular challenge for programs that aim to promote a difference in parenting styles. Encouraging families, whose parenting is a deeply engrained response to their own childhood, to adopt new practices is an aspect of any early childhood intervention that needs to be carefully considered.

switch coverI recently read the book Switch, subtitled How to Change Things When Change is Hard by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. I'm a little late to the table, as Switch was published to great acclaim in 2010, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 47 weeks. On the Heath brothers' website, Switch is described, accurately, as "a compelling, story-driven narrative [that brings] together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change."

Using the analogy of a rider on an elephant, the authors propose a three-part framework to bring about change - direct the rider (the rational mind), motivate the elephant (the emotional mind), and shape the path (the environment). They describe how, to elicit change, it's essential to articulate crystal clear instructions that enable the rider to direct the elephant, to make an emotional appeal that will give the elephant energy to move in the right direction, and to provide an environment conducive to change. Considering Reach Out and Read from this perspective, I am impressed that, despite predating the publication of Switch by 21 years, our model follows their framework!

First, let's look at directing the rider. With the aim of encouraging families to develop positive, responsive parenting, Reach Out and Read doctors promote reading aloud every day. In recent years, it has become clear that healthy early brain development is dependent on positive family interactions in which parents engage with their young children right from the start. And yet an instruction to "engage with your young children every day" is difficult to put into practice. A simple message to read aloud every day, given with details as to how best to do this at each developmental stage, is a great way of helping parents spend some time each day connecting with their infants and toddlers. Even when it seems strange to suggest that parents read aloud to a baby, it can be easier for many parents to cuddle a young child and let them hear the sound of their voice as they read aloud than to think of what to say.

switch - mother & childSecondly, motivating the elephant. The emotional instinct for all parents in wanting to do the best for their children is huge; they often just want to be shown how. Knowing that spending time with their children and connecting with them will help prepare their children for school and for all that follows, and having an easily manageable way to do this, parents are motivated to make change. As Rosa, one of our Reach Out and Read parents said "Reading to my son will make a difference in how he does in school. I want to do that for him."

Finally, shaping the path. Many of the families that Reach Out and Read serves do not have any books at home. By giving each child a new developmentally-appropriate book to take home with them at each of 10 medical checkups from infancy, we provide the tools necessary to implement the change. For those parents, whose first language is not English, we offer books in 12 different languages, and books can even be useful for parents who don't read - we encourage them to talk about the story that the pictures tell. We are also partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to encourage partnerships between Reach Out and Read sites and their local libraries, to expand the selection of books available for families to read aloud.

It is encouraging to read a book that has received accolades for its proposal of a framework that is powerful in creating transformative change, and to see that the Reach Out and Read model has all of the characteristics required. This is substantiated by research showing that parents served by Reach Out and Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud to their children. By continuing to promote parental engagement through reading aloud, and expanding our program to reach more children, Reach Out and Read can bring about the change in parenting practice that will have a powerful impact on their children's, and our society's future. 

We have closed our Comments option due to SPAM, but we welcome your comments on our Facebook and Twitter platforms.

Written by Nikki Shearman at 08:05

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Reach Out and Read National Center
89 South St, Suite 201
Boston, MA 02111