Don’t be surprised if during you next appointment with your child or grandchild’s pediatrician, the doc gives your child a book and asks her to read. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that their providers counsel parents of young children about the benefits of reading stories aloud and talking about the accompanying illustrations. Evidence-based research shows that this practice: strengthens language skills, literacy development and the relationship between child and parent. It’s a win-win and an investment in the futures of all children.
HAVE A CHILD CLIMB ONTO YOUR LAP AND READ TO THEM Perri Klass MD, professor of Pediatrics, mother of three and author of fiction and nonfiction states:”…the bigger picture now is to help parents build interactions with their children into their everyday lives because this can create nurturing relationships, which promote early brain development, early literacy, language development and school readiness.” Sandy Banks writes in the LA TIMES: I hope (this campaign) jumpstarts a public conversation about the value of parenting basics often overlooked in a world of high-teach tools where schools hand out tablets …before children learn to turn the pages of a book. Though Banks mentions the negative reactions from some: will parents feel like failures in front of their kids’ doctors? Will it shame parents who are themselves poor readers? She praises the basics of the process: The snuggling and bonding, the shared delight in a toddler’s discovery of textures, ideas, sights and sounds can be the building blocks of a strong foundation between parent and child.
START THE CONVERSATION RIGHT AWAY Making your child your conversational partner will boost that child’s literacy. Here’s an excerpt from my older post, New Moms: Talk to Your Child: This advice could be mom advice or grandmother advice. Or it could just be another plank in the platform of communication. But I have found that children who are talked to from the moment they breathe on this planet are smarter and better communicators than those treated like a piece of furniture that happens to be in the room. As they slip from the birth canal, children are alert to what’s happening around them. They sense calm and peaceful loving voices, disinterested voices and of course will be affected by shouting and angry voices. Because they cannot immediately see, we create their beginning world with our voices. Anne Fernald, a Stanford psychologist, agrees with me and her research underlines that the NUMBER OF WORDS a child is exposed to has a profound effect on how they process language. Why is that important? Because it helps them become part of their environment which is their ability to follow directions, label items, make choices and eventually read. But all stats aside, parents can’t just shower children with words–it’s the quality of the interaction Fernald says. “It’s about changing how you interact with a child–whether you perceive a question as a threat to your authority or the leading edge of curiosity that will serve this child well in school.” We should always encourage more than we scold.
WHY IS THIS RESEARCH NECESSARY? What do you think, Boomer parents and grandparents? The research confirms intuitive knowledge that many of us had raising our children and caring for our grandchildren. But sometimes that knowledge gets pushed aside by changes in our culture. Though I am all for women having careers and breaking through ceilings, glass or whatever, that cultural shift might have meant that a child didn’t have the cuddling, reading time, didn’t hear the mother’s voice on a constant basis, was often in a situation where speech was not directed just to him or her. Interactive toys powered by batteries or computer games on tablets can help build vocabulary and stimulate the desire for knowledge. But the point of the pediatrician campaign may just help the parents more than the child. Children grow fast. They leave us, fly away. Interaction, physical attention, loving advice, shared laughter, warm kisses and hugs, game playing — every bit of it helps to build a human being and a human connection. It’s for life. Parents shouldn’t fear this responsibility, but they should jump into it with eagerness and not decide that the television or a computer tablet is any kind of substitute.
AND BOOMERS, IT’S NEVER TOO LATE I had two aunts who never married and what they gave me and my brothers in terms of helping us become good citizens of the world was amazing. They read to us, played with us, encouraged our love of literature and music. It’s never too late to reach out and help a child. My friend Susan volunteers in the NICU at her local hospital. She holds infants, talks to them, sometimes feeds them. They are so lucky to have that soft voice and encouragement in addition to what they receive from nurses, doctors and their own parents when the parents can be there. My husband’s volunteer work is helping teens set future objectives. He guides them in discovering their skill set, writing a resume and finding employment or the right college path. Some Boomers start athletic programs for children or volunteer in daycare centers or teach art in elementary schools. And many Boomers are helping to raise their grandchildren by babysitting the entire work week or maybe a few days a week or on weekends. No matter what the time frame, every interaction is important.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR GRANDCHILDREN? HERE ARE MINE: Puzzles, drawing, Connect Four, Matching Card Games, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, imaginative play–especially cooking/kitchen–gardening and reading. Some favorite books: GOODNIGHT MOON, STUART LITTLE, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, FROG AND TOAD, JUST LIKE HEAVEN, and THE GIFT OF NOTHING. Here is a list of Scholastics Top 100 Books for Children, a pdf you can print out and refer to. http://www.scholastic.com/100books/pdf/Top_100_Childrens_Books_of_All_Time.pdf