Dr. Genevieve London (Guest): Really, I recommend starting to read as soon as a child is born. Early exposure to language, to the written word is beneficial, not just to literary skills, but also in developing healthy parent-child interaction so it’s really crucial from the very beginning.
Melanie: Parents feel silly sometimes reading to tiny little babies like they’re not going to really know what they’re reading. But, it’s not only about what you read, is it? It’s just about that time together.
Dr. London: Yes. I think that’s really important. You are developing social and emotional skills; you’re setting aside time with a child, but there’s also different ways in which you read. You don’t necessarily need to read a book in order. You can point out items. You can label things at the early stages and just show a love of books to a child from a very early age.
Melanie: Dr. London, in this day and age of so much technology, does it matter if we’re reading a board book, a little wooden book, a blow up book for the bathtub, or a book on a tablet?
Dr. London: I would say it does and it doesn’t. Different readers, different aged children and children at different developmental stages get different things from books. At a very early age, it’s part of a motor skill – children holding books, turning pages. That’s part of their development as well. As they get older, the affects they are getting from books changes. It can graduate into alphabet and rhyming and move on from there into storytelling. When we get into screen usage, it gets complicated. The different apps that are out there can vary in their quality but one of the key components of reading to children is the interaction with the caregiver that they are with. Very often with screens, that part of the relationship is missing.
Melanie: What about their logical thinking skills? If you’re reading them a book such as Dr. Seuss, these books are rhyming and sometimes nonsensical but yet there is a certain order to them--a logic. Do you recommend discussing them with your kids or just reading them for the fun of it?
Dr. London: I recommend both. Dr. Seuss books are certainly for the later stages that may not be something to a four- or six-month-old but certainly to a child at two or three, learning rhyming is part of learning how to manipulate the alphabet and associating written words into spoken language. It’s a bit of that playfulness that allows people to move on. Those books, in particular, also have a lot to do with moral education and how people relate to their world and to other individuals and that’s actually a key component of reading. Research has shown that if you discuss what are called “non-immediate words”, so not the words that are necessarily on the page but how the story relates to a child, that really helps to reinforce messages. It helps to engage the parent and child in a conversation and really promote a love of the activity. It also just exposes further vocabulary. If you read a word like “magic” and now you discuss magicians after the book is finished, you’re sort of building on words and learning how to play and manipulate them for further meaning.
Melanie: So, as a child gets a little bit older, Dr. London, and we’re reading to our little guys and it is a real special time for parents and then they get a little older does it matter if we’re reading to them or if they’re working on reading to us? As long as there is a book in hand, is that what the point is?
Dr. London: Yes, the book in hand provides so many different opportunities and I think you’re really touching on that, which is this reciprocal relationship that happens. It does graduate over time. I think different things are learned by the parent reading to a child versus the child reading to a parent. A parent reading to a child can develop listening skills, something that is crucial when they enter a classroom. A child reading out loud promotes fluency. It takes away some of the social phobia around reading out loud when they are with peers. There are really are different skill sets there and both are crucial.
Melanie: What about audio books? Have you ever recommended audio books? The Harry Potter audio book series is amazing for kids to listen to.
Dr. London: I listened to a lot of audio books as a child. It wasn’t Harry Potter. I listened to The Hobbit growing up and certainly that was wonderful and magical for me. I think it does change the focus. You take back out that relationship with the parent unless perhaps you’re listening together and discussing afterwards. I think there is a different value in that in just the enjoyment of storytelling but it is a little bit different from what you are getting from the reading out loud with a family member or caregiver. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent.
Melanie: How does reading to your child – even starting really early, Dr. London – help with their basic speech skills and is this a way for parents to even identify possible for early intervention issues with speech and learning and listening?
Dr. London: Spotting issues is a challenge. It’s a conversation that happens with caregivers and the pediatrician or caregivers. If children are in preschool or in daycare, we can identify issues. The fact is, they are incredibly prevalent. Research has shown that one in three children do not have the literacy skills they need when they enter kindergarten and two-thirds of U.S. children, at the end of third grade, have not achieved reading proficiency. Reading proficiency at third grade is the greatest predictor of high school graduation and ultimately career success. It’s a conversation about language skills that happens ongoing with caregivers and their providers.
Melanie: In the last few minutes, Dr. London, really give us the benefits about starting young and sticking with reading to your child.
Dr. London: Sure. The American Academy of Pediatrics really details this in their literacy section. They suggest that we read aloud for parent-child interactions as well as development of literacy skills. They suggest reading together daily. As we progress from that, rhyming with children, playing with language, making it fun and interactive. Having a routine around reading is crucial. It can help with sleep issues. It can help just setting up children for expectations. We should reward children for that activity and reward them in everyday activities. This will promote their social development, their interaction with people, their exposure to vocabulary. It promotes literacy. There are so many benefits around reading. It’s hard to summarize them in just a few statements.
Melanie: Just the last question, Dr. London. What do you tell people when parents say, “They want me to read the same book 500 times. Can’t I switch books now?”
Dr. London: I’m so glad you brought that up. One of the really wonderful things about books is even though the words never change, the experience can be different every time. I will demonstrate in the room. I will take a book that is there. You can really capitalize on what children find interesting and they will lead you through this book. In the early stages, they may skip straight to page five and they may point to something on the page. You can describe that item and you can describe it differently every time. If it’s just the image of a sun. A sun is a circle. It’s yellow or orange. It’s bright. It gives off warmth. You can just continue to build words around just the simplest things. The book gives you that opportunity to see what a child is interested in. As you move forward, you discuss it. You talk about, “Is the sun out today? What is the weather like?” And you can just continue to build and build, even in those same books.
Melanie: That is such great information and so wonderful to read to your child. Thank you so much, Dr. London for being with us today. You’re listening to MMC Radio. For more information you can go to MaineMedicalCenter.org. That’s MaineMedicalCenter.org. MMC.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.