In an effort to promote early literacy, last month the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that, during doctor visits, pediatricians should remind parents to read to aloud to their children.
“One of most important skills that a child can learn is language,” says Peggy Sissel-Phelan, co-founder and board member of Reach Out and Read Arkansas, which provides books to children beginning at age six months through doctor visits.
“Language develops naturally but not all children learn all the same kinds of words or the number of words. It’s important that parents be talking and reading to their children.”
Sissel-Phelan says socio-economics has a major impact on literacy, and children from low-income families hear far fewer words than children from higher income families.
But, she says, it goes beyond hearing the words. Instead, dialogue and idea exchange are essential for children to learn to question and express themselves. This is particularly important in Arkansas, where about half of children are not school ready by the time they reach kindergarten.
Reach Out and Read, which has partnered with 37 clinics in the state and reaches about 63,000 children annually, uses physicians as messengers on early literacy, says Kathy Vining DeLone, Reach Out and Read’s executive director. Doctors provide guidance to parents and send them home with a book, which is provided via book drives and donations.
Sissel-Phelan says she’s “thrilled” with the recent AAP guidelines. While AAP has always endorsed Reach Out and Read (the national organization is more than 25 years old), she says the recent announcement goes a step forward to say that early literacy is just as important as other “interventions and preventatives,” like immunizations, nutrition and breastfeeding.
Early exposure to books and literacy has been shown to improve child development and future health and well-being. Sissel-Phelan says the goal is to have every pediatrician and primary care provider in the state involved with Reach Out and Read, and they expect AAP’s guidelines to take them one step closer.
Save the Date
Rx for Success, the annual fundraiser for Reach Out and Read Arkansas, is Sept. 11 at Next Level Events in Little Rock from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Tickets are $35. Visit www.reachoutandreadarkansas.org for more details or to purchase tickets.