Reading to Babies From Birth Is Important, So Grab a Book and an Infant

Stockpile those new nursery shelves, expectant mothers. Your trusted local pediatricians will now recommend reading to your babies daily, thanks to new guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Tuesday. The new policy statement, which represents the first time the academy has officially incorporated early literacy education, encourages its 62,000 member pediatricians to emphasize to parents during each and every doctor visit the importance of reading out loud to their children from infancy.

Thanks to years of research, we know that much important cognitive development occurs during the first three years of a child’s life, but more recent studies have shown that the benefits of daily story time routines can be seen in young children even before they are 18 months old. According to this latest research, reading aloud to infants on a regular basis is crucial to their development of pre-literary skills, which they'll take with them once they enter school. Even though these infants won’t be reading anytime soon, they can prep early on for their literary futures.

“Reading to children and with children is a very joyous event and a way of fostering a relationship, as well as [helping] language development,” pediatrician and policy statement author Pamela High told the Los Angeles Times. “And we don’t have to wait until we’re getting them ready for school. We can make it part of regular routine.”

Verbal engagement — through singing, talking, or reading — enhances vocabulary and communication skills, so the more words a child is exposed to from birth the better. And, with their new recommendation, the AAP hopes to combat illiteracy and reduce academic disparities between children of high and low-income families. (According to a famous study conducted in the early '90s, children of lower income families hear on average 30 million fewer words than children of wealthier families.) To further this initiative, the AAP is teaming up with Scholastic, which will dole out 500,000 free books through the Reach Out and Read program, a nationwide nonprofit organization of medical professionals who donate books to low-income families, the Washington Post reports.

"Fewer than half of children are being read to every day by their families, and that number hasn't really changed since 2003. It's a public health message to parents of all income groups, that this early shared reading is both fun and rewarding," High told U.S. News.

Maybe these picture books will be a good start.

Images: devinf/flickr