Reading to Your Children is CrucialDec 16, 2013
If you’re struggling for a great gift for your kids this holiday season, buy them a book and read it to them. Most parents may realize the importance of reading to their young children, but probably never had any idea exactly how crucial it is. Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner talks about the “Reach Out and Read” program and explains why reading out loud to your children can help prevent future problems such as disinterest in school, teen pregnancy, and drugs.
Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.
Interviewer: Most parents realize that reading is important with their children but probably not exactly how important it is. I'm with pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner from the University of Utah. She also runs the Reach Out and Read program. It's a program that promotes early literacy by giving new books to children and telling parents about the importance of reading aloud. Let's start out with why did this program start in the first place. It must have been trying to solve a problem that you guys saw.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Right. It started back in 1989 in Boston. The co- founder, Dr. Rob Needlman, brought in a bunch of books from home, and he noticed they kept disappearing from his reading room. What was going on? Then, he noticed that the kids that were coming in were taking the books. He kept bringing more books in, and they kept disappearing. He found out that a lot of kids that he was a pediatrician for did not have books in their home.
Interviewer: They obviously wanted them, because they were taking them.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Right, right. These kids would be read to in the office, and they found it so enjoyable that they took the books home. Because a lot of the kids there were inner city Boston and they didn't have the money. It's like if you have to choose food, shelter, or books, obviously you're going to choose food and shelter.
Interviewer: All right. Let's talk about the actual program, though. It's more than just reading. It's reading aloud with your children.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Right.
Interviewer: Okay, for 20 minutes a day. Tell me the importance of that, because this is striking.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: We give new developmentally appropriate books to kids ages six months through five years when they come in for a well visit. That also gives us the opportunity to see how does a parent interact with their child when there's a book in their hands and how do the children respond to the book.
You'd be surprised. For a lot of kids, the first book I give them at six months may be the first book in their home. They will sit down. They will read. It's a bonding experience for parents and children. They get the time to sit to be read to.
Kids learn that they like being read to. They ask to be read to. Then, by the time they get to kindergarten they've got a little library of books and they already know the positive influence that a book can have on their lives. They learn to enjoy reading and being read to. This goes all the way through their entire lives pretty much, because kids who are read to it's been shown are more interested in school. They're more likely to get their high school diploma or higher.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Yes, they're much more likely to avoid teen pregnancy, drugs, things like that, because they have such a positive foundation with books. It goes on through the rest of their school years and beyond.
Interviewer: And this is research that has borne this out.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Yes, there is a lot of research that backs all this up.
Interviewer: So, instead of an apple a day...
Dr. Cindy Gellner: A book a day, absolutely.
Interviewer: ...it should be a book a day, because it sounds like wow, it's hard to believe that it keeps kids in high school, more likely to graduate, teen pregnancies... Why is that? Do we have any idea why?
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Just think about how much of a positive influence it is for someone to read to you, to take the time to spend it with you. Then, you get to realize books aren't these things, like, oh I've got to go read again. It's actually hey, let's read this book here.
Interviewer: If a parent is interested in this, what would they need to know? What would you tell them?
Dr. Cindy Gellner: If a parent wants to participate in Reach Out and Read they have to find a pediatrician who actually has that program in their office.
Interviewer: So, if a parent has a pediatrician that isn't part of this Reach Out and Read program but they're excited about what they just heard, what are some of the things that you teach parents in Reach Out and Read so they're reading properly with their children?
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Be an active reader. When you're reading a story if there are different characters make different voices. The kids actually think that's really cool.
Interviewer: Even if it feels silly, do it.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Even if it feels silly, you know what, your kid's going to enjoy it.
Interviewer: All right.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Point out different things. Make your child be part of the story. If the story is about a dog that goes to a farm, you could say what does this animal say, and what does this animal say. You can use it not just for reading, but you can use it for teaching about different parts of life. What does this animal say? What is this little boy doing? Do things like that so you can get the child actively involved.
When they start reading to you, see if you can work on phonics with them. See if you can sound out the words. As they get older, they're now going to be the ones reading to the little kids, and it's going to continue going. The older kids are going to enjoy the books just as much as they did when they were little.
Interviewer: The younger kids are going to identify some stuff. The older kids, you might be able to talk about what's the theme in the story, how did Billy handle this situation, what was the challenge.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Right.
Interviewer: Yeah, they're learning life lessons.
Dr. Cindy Gellner: Exactly.
Interviewer: Any final thoughts on Reach Out and Read and the importance of reading to your kids in general?
Dr. Cindy Gellner: I think the most important thing is read to your kids. If you've seen "Three Men and a Baby," it doesn't matter what you're reading to your child initially when they're babies. You can read a sports magazine. The most important thing is you're reading to your child.
When they get to the point where they're wanting to touch the books and slobber on the books, let them. Let your child explore the book not just through the words but also through touching and feeling. Let them learn how much fun books can be, and that will stick with them for the rest of their life.
Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.