How Parents Can Help Their Children To Be Better Readers


You don’t need to take a course… It’s inexpensive… it is joyful and it will make a difference. You can help your child be a better reader by talking, smiling, gently touching, singing, playing baby games, reading aloud, reading and being responsive to your newborns – beginning at birth – for 15 minutes or more, wherever you are.

Important Facts

In 2014, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a policy on early literacy:

“Reading proficiency by third grade is the most significant predictor of high school graduation and career success, yet two-thirds of U.S. third-graders lack competent reading skills. A new AAP policy statement recommends that pediatric providers advise parents of young children that reading aloud and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development and parent-child relationships.”


As a result of this policy:

1. In-between dispensing advice on breast-feeding and immunizations, doctors should tell parents they should be “reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy through age seven.

2. With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the (AAP,) which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, has asked its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud.

3. Every time a baby and young child visits the doctor, the policy is emphasized by giving the child or parent a prescription to read for at least 15 minutes per day. The infants and children are also given a ‘developmentally appropriate book’ to look at, talk about, laugh and read with their parents or caregivers.

“Literacy promotion during preventive visits has some of the strongest evidence-based support that it can make a difference in the lives of young children and families,” asserts Pamela C. High, M.DM.SFAAP, lead author of Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice. 

What It Takes

The effort takes a multi-pronged approach toward equipping parents with the best tools to ensure that their children are prepared to learn as they enter school:

1. “Reading with young children is a joyful way to build strong and healthy parent-child relationships, to foster early language skills and to promote children’s development,” according to James M. Perrin, MD, FAAP, and President of the AAP. “Yet, fewer than half of children younger than five years old are read to daily in our country. Pediatricians are taking a stand to spread the news more widely — that early-shared reading is both fun and rewarding. The benefits are so compelling, that encouraging reading at young children’s check-ups has become an essential component of our care.”

2. Kaiser Permanente will ask its Oakland Medical Center pediatricians to distribute the Sesame Street Talk, Read, Sing Parent Toolkit to parents of newborns and parents of 18-month-olds during well-child visits, along with information on how parents can sign up for Text4baby. Based on the results of this pilot program, Kaiser Permanente will consider expanding the toolkit distribution to their hospitals nationwide.

3. “Reading to infants – early childhood should be made available each time we touch base with children,” said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the AAP’s policy.

4. Let’s close the “word gap.” Research shows that the more words children hear directed at them by parents and caregivers, the more they learn – yet children from low-income families have significantly fewer books than their more affluent peers. Studies have also found that by age four, children in middle and upper income families hear 30 million more words than their low-income peers. This disparity in hearing words from parents and caregivers translates directly into a disparity in learning words. And that puts our children born with the fewest advantages even further behind. Among those born in 2001, only 48 percent of poor children started school ready to learn compared to 75 percent of children from middle-income families.

It Might Sound Overwhelming But…

The AAP recommends restricting TV time for kids under 2 in favor of interactive play, and reading books can certainly be a part of that. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Pamela High, M.D., the lead author on the AAP early literacy policy, recommends that parents focus on the 5 Rs of early education: read together, rhyme and play with words, set consistent routines, reward with praise, and develop a strong relationship.

Being exposed to books at a young age will also foster early education, help kids prepare for school later in life, and possibly reduce the educational gap between low- and high-income families. There are also several amazing benefits of reading out loud to babies: it strengthens bonding, increases language skills, improves vocabulary, boosts brain activity, and fine-tunes social and emotional recognition – all important things for baby’s development.

So grab some board books and start shaping a little bookworm today!

Thank you to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Reach Out and Read, Too small to Fail, Dr. Dewitt, Dr. John Hutton, Dr. Dana Suskind, the Scholastic Books and the Clinton Foundation.

You might want to check out Raising Readers, Read Aloud, all the Early Literacy Reading Programs, and The Thirty Million Word Gap.

I am happy to answer questions on the importance of reading, talking, singing, touching and loving your babies and how that promotes language development and later early reading skills.

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Patty Weiner is a mother and grandmother whose career spans over 40 years as a child life specialist, an educator, a child and family advocate and a health education specialist. Patty works with children referred by the Making Headway Foundation as an Educational Consultant, helping families of children who have had brain tumors receive the educational services they need in school in the NY Tri-state area. She is the author of a book for Parents/Caregivers entitled, Taking Your Child to the Doctor or The Hospital: Helpful suggestions and practical tips to make your child’s visit more comfortable.

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