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News, Events, and Updates from Reach Out and Read

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

Reach Out and Read Improves Family and Child Health Outcomes through Primary Care

New article "The Elephant in the Clinic" examines the multifaceted role of Reach Out and Read in the promotion of early literacy and family well-being through primary healthcare.
Written by Nikki Shearman at 12:05

Closing the Achievement Gap Requires Interventions that Target Children from the Earliest Years

With the author's permission, this article is an adaptation of a letter to the editor of Pediatrics by Reach Out and Read Co-Founder Dr. Robert Needlman M.D., F.A.A.P. following the publication of the report Positive Parenting Practices, Health Disparities, and Developmental Progress

Reading aloud statistics

A new study published inPediatrics last month provides further evidence that economic disadvantage is associated with fewer stimulating early childhood experiences and increased risk of developmental delays. Working with data from 12,642 children 4 to 36 months of age, Shah and colleagues analyzed interactive parent practices, such as reading aloud, talking and playing, and showed that "less participation in interactive activities is associated with increased risk of development delay among those experiencing significant adversity."

This report confirms and builds on the message of the landmark Hart & Risley study, published 20 years ago that studied a total of 42 children intensely over 30 months, recording at intervals every word that was said to them, and every word they said in turn. These scientists found that by the age of four, children from lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers.

That these two disparate approaches reached the same conclusion is reassuring. That the underlying reality has remained unchanged for 20 years, that is, the propagation of social and developmental disadvantage, is not.

What has changed is the response to the problem. Both studies conclude that the achievement gap starts in infancy, and is already established by the age of four. Closing the achievement gap, therefore, depends on interventions that target children from the earliest days. Shah and colleagues go further to suggest that pediatricians have a vital role to play in delivering programs that strengthen parenting practices for the very young. "The advantages are that the primary care setting is established, non-stigmatizing, accessible locally, and has the potential to disseminate parenting interventions."

Reading aloud 2There are now many programs, both local and national, that seek to influence early childhood development, and several that operate through the primary care setting. Of the latter, Reach Out and Read is a well-established and successful non-profit organization - implemented in every state, in more than 5,500 clinics, and in virtually every pediatric training program. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, that recommends "pediatric providers promote early literacy development" references Reach Out and Read as an effective intervention to engage parents and prepare children to achieve their potential.

Reach Out and Read was developed some 26 years ago and uses a simple time-honored model in which medical providers give books to children at each of their well-child checkups and encourage their parents to read aloud to them. It is supported by a large body of published research showing that the children we serve are read to more often by their parents, have improved language skills and a greater love of reading. Reach Out and Read now serves over 4.5 million children annually, including one in five disadvantaged children. We still have a long way to go, and we plan to continue to grow and reach more families and children across the nation, but as we contemplate how far we have yet to go in our efforts to combat social disadvantage, it's important to keep in mind how far we have come.


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Reach Out and Read National Center
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