A physician's advice for parents: Read

Special to the Herald-Leader,By Dr. Donna GrigsbySeptember 2, 2012 

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Every year, parents take their children to a pediatrician for pre-school physicals and immunizations. During these visits, parents often ask what other steps they can take to make to prepare their children for school.

My advice to them is simple: Read.

Children are born ready to learn. Their brains are ready to be stimulated to add new information from the very beginning. Much of what children learn during their first years of life is shaped by the adults around them. Just as parents teach their children motor skills and social skills, they also provide children with the tools for developing and using language skills and communicating with others. Sadly, more than one-third of children in our country will enter kindergarten without the basic language skills they need to learn to read, like recognizing letters and knowing that books are read from left to right.

According to Scholastic's Global Literacy Campaign, 15-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher assessment scores than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.

The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family's socio-economic background. Children who grow up in homes where books are plentiful go further in school than those who don't. Children with low-education families can do as well as children with high-education families if they have access to books at home.

So how do we make this happen? There are simple steps every parent can take.

Language exposure. Early language skills are based on language exposure — parents and other adults talking to young children and pointing out letters and numbers in everyday activities. Studies show that the more words parents use speaking to infants, the larger their vocabulary will be at age three.

Reading aloud. Books contain many words that children may not encounter in everyday language.

Lead by example. If our kids see us read, they will want to read too.

Make time for reading. Make sure that, in your family's schedule, there is quiet time available for reading. Making reading part of their bedtime routine also helps children calm down.

With our busy schedules, quiet time is often overlooked. Make it a family event by scheduling reading time at home.

Buying books may be difficult for some families but there is always the library. Also, many health clinics sponsor programs like Reach Out and Read (ReachOutandRead.org), which provides books to those who may not be able to afford them.

Dr. Donna Grigsby is a pediatrician at UK HealthCare.

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