Where Great Stories Begin

News, Events, and Updates from Reach Out and Read

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

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

Creating Fond Memories of Reading Together With the People Who Love Us

When we look back on our childhood, many of us have fond memories of being read to, of snuggling up and enjoying a favorite story with the people who love us. And it's not so much the story that we remember, but the feeling of love and security that it gave us. My father sat and cuddled my brother, my sister and me every evening when he came home from work. We would sit all together on the bed in our PJs, and he would read us a story, or, if we were really lucky, make up one of his own. My favorite was about a cabbage that uprooted itself and went on a journey to become king of the vegetables!

Creating Fond Memories of Reading TogetherIt turns out that what has been a time-honored tradition in so many families is actually a wonderful way of helping children to reach their full potential. We now know that when parents spend time focusing on their young children, it stimulates their brains to create connections that last a lifetime. Reading aloud gives children important early literacy skills and a love of reading. More importantly, the act of enjoying time together as a family creates the bonds that will give children a foundation for future learning and for building loving relationships.

At Reach Out and Read, we believe that all families should have the tools and information needed to make reading aloud a daily routine. There are many parents who want to do the best for their children but don't know that the simple act of reading aloud to their infants and toddlers every day can make a world of difference.

Our Reach Out and Read doctors and nurses have unparalleled access to families with young children at a time when many are not given any other formal advice about parenting. They give a new book to each child at their pediatric check-ups, and guidance about the importance of reading together.

It is a privilege to be able to help families create their own memories of reading aloud together. A Reach Out and Read doctor in Saucier, MS, told us this story:

"I know that Reach Out and Read makes a difference to my patients. When I give my patients their first book at the 6 month old well-child visit, I am often told this is the only book in the home. The simple gift of one book opens a door of possibility in the minds of the child's parents. For the first time they consider the value of books in the home life of their child. They usually come back at the next well-child visit saying they have acquired a few other books for the child that he enjoys sharing with his parents."

Written by Nikki Shearman at 09:00

When a Book is More than the Story Inside

The official definition of a book is "a collection of printed pages bound inside a cover", but we all know that a book is so much more than that. A book can have many different meanings, depending on whose hands are holding it. For some, it is an escape from the humdrum of everyday life, for some, a journey into worlds they would not otherwise experience, and for others, a source of valuable information, ideas and opinions that enrich their lives. 

When a Book is More than the Story Inside

The books that Reach Out and Read doctors and nurses give to a young child at their well-child visit are more than the story inside!  They are a tool used to encourage parents to read aloud regularly to their young children, a means of improving early literacy skills in the communities they serve, a way of leveling the playing fields.

Mounting evidence shows that what happens in infancy and toddlerhood sets the stage for achievement later in life.  Improving literacy skills during a child's first five years, a critical period of brain development, is an effective way of helping all children to enter school with the foundations for success at school and life beyond.

The Reach Out and Read program builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop early reading skills in children. At each well-child visit, our doctors and nurses give their young patients a new book to take home, along with age-appropriate guidance to parents about the importance of reading aloud to their infants and toddlers.

In many cases, the book given at a well-child visit is the first book the family has ever owned, and becomes a much-treasured story. One doctor told us:

"We care for many low-income families, and I love bringing a book in for a toddler and watching the parents' reaction to the child's face lighting up when he or she receives the book. By 18 months of age, it's so obvious that the children have been read to on a consistent basis."

By the time a child enters kindergarten, they have a home library of at least 10 books, and parents who read aloud to them to make these books come alive.

 

Written by Nikki Shearman at 10:00

Reach Out and Read is Collaborating with Save the Children to Support Early Childhood Literacy in Rural America

Reach Out and Read has recently embarked on an exciting joint initiative with Save the Children to support and foster children's education and wellbeing in some of the United States' most impoverished and isolated regions. Funded by a $4.2 million federal grant from the Department of Education's Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program, the Building Child-Centered Communities in Rural America project uses a collective approach to develop and improve literacy skills for children from birth through 10 years old. The two-year program will focus on 30 isolated communities in four states, South Carolina, Kentucky, Colorado and Arizona, where access to quality early learning opportunities is often the most difficult.

There is an ever-growing achievement gap in America that starts in early childhood. It is well established that children who are unable to read on grade-level by the fourth grade are unlikely to ever catch up, and in rural areas, where resources are few and far between, nearly half of school children fail to meet this benchmark. The best way to improve the chances for lifelong success is to reach children in the first five years of life, a critical time period when 90% of all brain development occurs. The interventions in early childhood can then be reinforced through school-age programs.

IAL grant

The Building Child-Centered Communities in Rural America project is grounded on the core premise that collaboration between organizations results in a collective impact that is essential for effecting lasting change. It will surround children in an integrated structure of home, school, and community resources, aligning a continuum of services from birth through 10 years old.

Reach Out and Read medical providers in the 30 communities participating in this project will reach over 16,000 children from birth through five yearsof age. They will give a new, developmentally-appropriate book to infants and toddlers at each well-child visit, along with advice to parents about the benefits of reading aloud to their children every day. Research has shown that parents who have been given this advice by their pediatrician or family physician read to their children more often, and their children's language scores are improved. This is an important intervention in communities where many children are not enrolled in early education programs.

To reinforce this message, every family participating in Save the Children's home visitation program, Early Steps to School Success, will receive high-quality, age-appropriate children's books to ensure that each family is able to build their own library and help their children develop a love of reading.

 

Save the Children already provides additional support for these children as they reach school through donations of $4,000 to $6,000 worth of books for school-age programming. This project will allow for the additional provision of:

  • $10,000 worth of books, tablets and e-books for each school
  • Afterschool literacy, physical activity and nutrition programs
  • Parent-child events
  • Training and technical assistance.

As the final piece in this multi-faceted project, a Community Literacy Manager will be hired locally to increase community collaboration in this far-reaching project, and to build local capacity and leadership for deeper impact and sustainability.

Supporting early childhood literacy education through the interacting approaches supported by this grant will have far-reaching outcomes:

  • Communities that have the capacity to support early child literacy
  • Families that are connected to schools, libraries and community organizations
  • Parents and caregivers that have the knowledge and skills to support their children's development
  • Children who enter school with the skills for success.

It feels good to work together!

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Written by Reach Out and Read - Communications at 10:00

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