Parental Influence on Children’s Reading Ability Starts at Birth

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How early can a parent’s actions influence a baby’s future reading ability? As early as possible, say speakers at Reach Out and Read of Greater New York's Annual Meeting.

Everything we know about the developing brain makes it clear that young children are particularly receptive to the introduction of language into daily life.

How early can a parent’s actions influence a baby’s future reading ability?

As early as one week old, says Dr. Paul B. Yellin, founder of the Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education. Dr. Yellin presented findings about early language acquisition at the Reach Out and Read of Greater New York Annual Meeting on June 20th, which brought together early childhood professionals in a forum on parenting and early childhood literacy.

“Within the first week of life, newborns are able to detect changes in sound frequencies,” said Dr. Yellin. “Newborns at increased risk for the development of reading disorders do not appear to be able to detect these changes.”

Talking and reading to young babies can help them begin to differentiate the sounds that make up words – an early building block of language acquisition and prereading skills. “Everything we know about the developing brain makes it clear that young children are particularly receptive to the introduction of language into daily life,” said Dr. Yellin.

Dr. Yellin discussed the importance of the Reach Out and Read program in supporting families with young children. Through Reach Out and Read pediatricians counsel parents on ways to foster their child’s early literacy development. “What is so wonderful about Reach Out and Read is that it works through a very practical avenue – using the pediatric office as a way to introduce reading and literature to young children, especially those children (and their parents and caretakers) who would not ordinarily be exposed to reading on a regular basis or have an opportunity to own books.”

Other speakers at the event included a panel of health care providers and educators working with vulnerable populations: Austin Durbin, from the Floating Hospital, discussed how his organization promotes children’s literacy among homeless families; Dr. Terry Marx from The Children’s Aid Society discussed literacy promotion to children in foster care; and Lita Anglin from The Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and the NYU Clinical Cancer Center discussed her work with children suffering from cancer and blood disorders.

“Reach Out and Read moves focus away from the illness and onto the joy of family,” said Ms. Anglin. “It also provides a talking point between providers and families about parents’ literacy.”

A presentation geared directly toward parents was made by Rachel Payne, children’s librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library, and Susan Straub, Director of the Read to Me program. Payne and Straub shared insights from their book “Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos: the Basics,” which offers tips for parents on reading aloud with children, including book recommendations and thoughts on ebooks and apps.

For participants, many of whom work in pediatric clinics with the Reach Out and Read children’s literacy program, the meeting was an opportunity to gain deeper insight into child development in order to better assist the families they serve.

About the program, Michelle Morgan, Senior Health Educator at The Floating Hospital, said, “I see the lives of our young people change through reading. Based on the disparities that I have seen in my line of work, if I can help to change the outcome of at least one child, my mission is accomplished.”

Materials from the event and additional resources can be found at the Reach Out and Read of Greater New York website.

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Asari Beale
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