Any experienced parent will tell you: You really can't expect your kids to start reading until long after they start talking. If your daughter or son can make out words at 4, jump for joy. And this parent, like many others, learned the hard way that it's a bad idea to try and force your kids to learn before they're ready.
But reading to a child is something entirely different. After all, you're the one doing the work, and your son or daughter is sure to enjoy simply being in your presence and listening to the sound of your voice as you tackle, say, the tongue-twisters in some vintage Dr. Seuss. As one reading expert put it to me once: Kids understand that being read to is an act of love. When they get older, they "transfer" that love to the book.
So it comes as little surprise to hear the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Read to your kids as soon as you can, and every day, the academy recommended in a study released Tuesday. In a wonderful use of metaphor, a researcher who helped pen the study said that reading to infants is as important as a polio vaccine. It helps "immunize" children "against illiteracy."
"Reading to children and with children is a very joyous event and a way of fostering a relationship, as well as [helping] language development," said Pamela High, a pediatrician and lead author of the policy statement. "And we don't have to wait until we're getting them ready for school. We can make it part of regular routine."
The academy is partnering with Scholastic in a program to encourage reading in low-income families, in part by donating 500,000 books through "Reach Out and Read," a nonprofit of medical professionals who donate books to low-income families, the Washington Post reports. Children who grow up in families that live below the poverty line are about half as likely to have their parents read to them as children living well above the poverty line.
Reading to children "stimulates brain development, and there's no question their speech/language development will be enhanced," Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., told U.S. News. "It also enriches the family experience, and contributes to social/emotional development."