Early Childhood Guide: Reading to your child is a lifelong gift

WHEN SHE TALKS with parents, Porter Pediatrician Elizabeth Coogan, M.D., encourages them to read to their children daily, which aids brain development and builds language skills.

One of my favorite times of day as a parent is curling up with my kids to read to them at bedtime. In addition to being a rare time in our busy lives when we can have a quiet moment together, this routine helps ensure that my kids are exposed to books and language every day. In my practice as a pediatrician at Porter I also make sure books and reading are part of my daily routine with patients.

I make this a priority because reading out loud to children, especially in the first three years of life, is critical for healthy brain development. Research shows that reading with children from birth is associated with improved language skills in kindergarten, increases interest in reading, and makes children more motivated to learn when they enter school. Reading, along with singing and talking, is also a wonderful way to strengthen parent-child relationships and creates positive parenting experiences through which children learn from their parents and those around them.

Unfortunately, the majority of kids in the United States are not read to daily, and children from low-income families are significantly less likely to be read to daily. Furthermore, one-third of American children start kindergarten without the appropriate language skills they need, which continues to impact their learning through elementary school and beyond.

To help address these disparities and promote early literacy in our office at Porter Pediatrics in Middlebury, we participate in a program called Reach Out and Read, or ROAR. ROAR is a national nonprofit organization that provides books to give out at routine visits. At every check-up from age six months through five years providers give children a new book to take home. In addition to adding a fun, positive spin to visits (that can otherwise sometimes be scary at this age), we use this opportunity to discuss the value of reading out loud with parents and children. Since we started this program in October of 2022 we have given out more than 2,000 books. Funding comes primarily from ROAR directly and is supplemented by Porter Pediatrics and local community donors.

Here are some tips for families to help children love to read:

• Make reading part of your everyday routines, including car rides, bedtime and waiting for appointments. Keeping a book handy in your car or diaper bag can make this easier.

• Visit your local library. We are lucky to have wonderful libraries in Addison County with librarians dedicated to having a full collection of books for kids of all ages. Bringing kids to the library and letting them choose books that interest them will help keep them engaged.

• Remember, any reading is good reading! Reading a few minutes at a time, letting children hold and turn the pages of books, and simply talking with them about the pictures on the pages are all valuable. 

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Coogan, M.D., works with babies, children and families at Porter Pediatrics.

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