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Prescriptions for Health: Why it’s never too early to read to your child

Dr. Gabriel Civiello

Dr. Gabriel Civiello

The weekly Prescriptions for Health column is part of an ongoing community health education effort by Franklin Memorial Hospital to provide information on an important health topic by its health care providers, with support from intern Sam Bennett, a junior at the University of Maine at Farmington majoring in biology and creative writing.

By Gabriel Civiello, MD

Reading to children helps them learn to read, write, speak, and understand the world around them. But many parents aren't sure when it's appropriate to start reading to their children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's never too early to start reading to your kids – for best results, you should be reading out loud to your children from the day they're born.

Recent studies have shown that the first three years of a child's life are important for the development of the brain, and reading is one of the best activities to promote that growth. When babies hear you speak, they start to memorize and understand words, so reading helps expand vocabulary and strengthen communication skills. The more words that babies hear, and the more often they hear them, connections are made in their brain. These effects can be found as early as the first 6-12 months of life, and it's important to take the opportunity when it's available so your children can grow up to be as smart as they can be.

To help parents take advantage of these new findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics released some guidelines for reading to children. They outlined the five “R”s:

• Reading: Parents should read with their children every day.

• Rhyming: Books and stories that follow a rhythm are better for keeping a young child's attention, and rhymes and songs make reading more fun and engaging for the child.

• Routines: Plan a specific time each day to read with your child, and give it your full attention – turn off the TV and put down your phone to eliminate distractions. This can be built into existing routines, such as the child's bedtime.

• Rewards: Keep track of your child's progress in learning to read. Ask him or her questions about what they see and see if they can finish a sentence on their own. This will keep them engaged in the reading and help practice language skills. Be sure to praise the child for showing improvement in vocabulary and reading comprehension.

• Relationships: Building healthy relationships with others is a key part of development. Reading with your child helps boost the trust between you, especially if it's done frequently and is fun and engaging for everyone involved. Even as the child learns how to read on his or her own, you can move on to more advanced books.

Franklin Health Pediatrics, as well as Franklin Health Farmington Family Practice and Livermore Falls Family Practice all participate in the Raising Readers program, the statewide network of hospitals and medical practices that gives books to Maine children. Giving a book to each child at birth and at all well-child visits from two months to five years presents primary care providers with the opportunity to stress the importance of reading aloud and to give suggestions to parents about how to use the book with their child.

In closing, reading to children daily helps their brains grow and develop, but sadly fewer than half of children under five years old in the U.S. have the benefit of being read to every day. Children introduced to reading early on tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to books at a young age. Beginning a reading routine as early as possible is just one thing you can do to ensure optimum health for your children.

Dr. Gabriel Civiello joined Franklin Health Pediatrics in August 2013. He received his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School before completing his residency at Maine Medical Center. Dr. Civiello is on the board of directors of the Western Western Maine Play Museum, an emerging children's museum in Wilton. He also serves as the MaineHealth clinical advisor for the Child Health and Raising Readers program assisting providers in program implementation.

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