Jul 08, 2014 12:10 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Start a new bedtime tradition and read to your baby.

A new call to action from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians talk to parents about reading to babies and even provide books if cost is an issue. This stems from research linking early literacy and language skills to being read to early on.

One-third of kids start kindergarten without the necessary language skills to learn to read, according to NPR. This disadvantage seems to be linked to socioeconomic status. In families living below the poverty line, one-third of kids are read to every day. But even in families of four with an income of $95,400, two-thirds of children are not being read to daily, according to the 2011–2012 National Survey of Children's Health.

Clearly there is room for improvement.

“It’s never too early to read to kids,” says Ellie Brownstein, MD, a board-certified pediatrician with University of Utah Health. “The more words children hear, the more words they develop.”

Brownstein offers some eye-opening statistics about how children’s language skills suffer when parents turn on the television instead of opening a book. “Adults use an average of 500 to 1,000 words fewer per hour with the TV on,” she says. “For every hour of TV kids watch early on, this equates to one fewer word in their vocabulary.”

Reading to infants early on changes that trajectory, and it affects their learning throughout life, according to Brownstein. And even if parents think their babies aren’t benefiting from being read to, stay the course. Soon, their familiarity with words will increase, and they will understand more.

Here are some tips for reading to babies:

  • Read anything, even the newspaper, when babies are too young to have story preferences. It’s the words, not the content, that matter.
  • Read to older children, and baby, during feedings.
  • Pick books with colorful pictures and fewer words to keep baby’s attention.
  • Encourage school-age children to read to their infant siblings.


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