Today, I think I have some very relevant information for all the families that have children that range from birth to three years old, that extremely important time in a child’s life when their brains are developing at the speed of light. Scientists are realizing more and more how critical this time is to a child’s development and ultimate success in life. We all want the very best for every child but how do we achieve this? What can parents do to give their little ones the best environment for outstanding cognitive ability? Well, in a nutshell, that is the topic we are going to take on today. Let’s see what emerging information has to offer as far as advice.
Researchers are beginning to find out what mothers and grandmothers have known for decades… reading to children makes them smart and gives them a great shot at doing well in school. For this reason, the AAP published a new policy statement that strongly encourages pediatricians, like me, to facilitate, encourage, and cajole parents into reading to their children regularly, especially in families that traditionally struggled with academic achievement. We have known for decades that, on average, at-risk children reach school with far poorer vocabulary than their middle class counterparts, to a large degree because they do not HEAR as much language in the first few years of life…unless–and this is a big unless–their parents turned the TV off and read to them on a regular basis. So it is notable that the Academy of Pediatrics has taken on improving the language and brain development of young children as their next frontier. We all know how easy it seems to be for young children to learn a new language; they seem to learn six languages as easily as they learn one. Young children are masters at acquiring language and reading, speaking, and imitating are the tools of their trade. What a tragedy it is not to give every child an equal chance at mastering their native tongue and being equally ready for school when the time comes. We just need to make it happen for every child since in the United States, only 34% of preschool children in poverty get read to daily!
Pediatricians are in a perfect position to influence parents. The AAP is right about that and using this influence to get parents to read more to their children… that is a great thing. As a practicing pediatrician however, I’ve got to tell you that the precious minutes you have with families and children in an office setting, with the myriad of subjects we are supposed to cover, is a daunting task for doctors. Maybe we should send pre-recorded messages on targeted issues like reading to children from pediatricians to families via phone calls or email. Or maybe this would be the appropriate material to discuss in the group medical visits that are becoming so popular. I am sure that in the era of innovation and technology, a new reality of a pediatric visit will emerge and that in the new paradigm of healthcare, stimulating brain, language, and cognitive development will be part of the mix. Maybe we should enlist the experts from the world of high efficiency manufacturing to help the healthcare system streamline the age-old pediatric office visit. If my office could only hum like a Ford assembly line… wouldn’t that be grand.
If you have ideas of how we can increase the time young children spend interacting with books and language, please weigh in on the subject by making a comment on my blog. I would love to hear your ideas. The next generation is everyone’s responsibility so let’s get started improving their chance of success with good language skills, learned right at home. At risk children have a lot to overcome but poor language skills at school entry maybe one problem that we can solve with relative ease. This is Doc Smo, recording in studio 1E, thanking you for joining me today and hoping that your little ones get hooked, on a lifetime of good books.