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Picking the Best First Book

A guest blog from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a U.S. pediatrician who participates in the national early literacy program Reach Out and Read and understands the importance of reading aloud to children of all ages.


After recognizing that reading to your child is one of the first brain-building activities to start routinely doing with your child, the next question is: which book?  Not all children's books are created the same: some are not very good at all, and others are mere vehicles for marketing to you and your children.  Yet the array of choices available at any public library or bookstore can be dizzying and bewildering.  How to choose?

 

When it comes to finding good books, your best bet is to make use of your expert local resources: your public librarian is usually well-versed in high-quality children's books for a variety of ages, cultures and interests.  They are more than happy to field your enquiries; not only can they recommend books in their collection, they can obtain books for you via interlibrary loan or even purchase them based on your requests!

 

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If you're looking to select books yourself, the most important question to ask is: "Does the book interest you?"  If the adult reading the book finds it interesting and engaging, there's a high likelihood the baby or child will as well.  Also, if the reader truly enjoys the book, he or she is more likely to read it with the kind of enthusiasm and expression that will in turn engage the baby or child listener.

 

Next, look at the images in the book; are they interesting and engaging?  This may range from beautiful artwork to complex images inviting the reader to linger over them to things inherently interesting to young children (e.g. baby faces, animals, etc).  As a child becomes older (after about age 2 years), does the text connect to images in a way that encourages language?  For example, does reading the story reference items in the images like colors or other features that build vocabulary and help a child develop skills in naming?

 

For some families, it can be important to find at least a few books in which the children look somewhat like themselves, celebrate similar holidays, speak the same languages, or eat similar foods.  I remember the joy with which my son pointed to a photograph of a little girl in a book of nursery rhymes and said it looked like his sister.  This is not a requirement, but children do deserve and delight to see other children with some aspects of their lives similar to their own.

 

Developmentally speaking, is the book's format appropriate?  Board books are designed for young children who do not yet have a "pincer" grasp developed - that pincer grasp is necessary to turn paper pages.

 

Finally, while these are good general principles to keep in mind, one never knows what books will take hold of a child's interest.  Sometimes the most unlikely-seeming choices will enrapture-and that's absolutely fine!

 

"We are not wise enough, we adults, to know what books will be right for any child at any particular moment, but the richer the book, the more imaginative, the more emotionally true, the more beautiful the language, the better the chance it will minister to a child's deep inarticulate fears."

                                    - Katherine Paterson, writing in The Horn Book, Jan/Feb 1991

 

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Written by Dr. Dipesh Navsaria at 08:15

How To Promote Positive, Responsive Early Childhood Parenting

A look at how to encourage families to adopt positive, responsive parenting practices using the framework proposed in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

 

It is widely accepted that our experience in the first 1,000 days of life sets the stage for later success and that America's growing achievement gap is best attacked by targeting the development of children from infancy. Given that parents or caregivers are the main influence in young children's lives, programs like Reach Out and Read that effectively provide parents with the information and tools they need to give their children the best start in life have a powerful effect on our communities and society.

The success of any intervention depends on getting people to embrace change, and this is a particular challenge for programs that aim to promote a difference in parenting styles. Encouraging families, whose parenting is a deeply engrained response to their own childhood, to adopt new practices is an aspect of any early childhood intervention that needs to be carefully considered.

switch coverI recently read the book Switch, subtitled How to Change Things When Change is Hard by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. I'm a little late to the table, as Switch was published to great acclaim in 2010, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 47 weeks. On the Heath brothers' website, Switch is described, accurately, as "a compelling, story-driven narrative [that brings] together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change."

Using the analogy of a rider on an elephant, the authors propose a three-part framework to bring about change - direct the rider (the rational mind), motivate the elephant (the emotional mind), and shape the path (the environment). They describe how, to elicit change, it's essential to articulate crystal clear instructions that enable the rider to direct the elephant, to make an emotional appeal that will give the elephant energy to move in the right direction, and to provide an environment conducive to change. Considering Reach Out and Read from this perspective, I am impressed that, despite predating the publication of Switch by 21 years, our model follows their framework!

First, let's look at directing the rider. With the aim of encouraging families to develop positive, responsive parenting, Reach Out and Read doctors promote reading aloud every day. In recent years, it has become clear that healthy early brain development is dependent on positive family interactions in which parents engage with their young children right from the start. And yet an instruction to "engage with your young children every day" is difficult to put into practice. A simple message to read aloud every day, given with details as to how best to do this at each developmental stage, is a great way of helping parents spend some time each day connecting with their infants and toddlers. Even when it seems strange to suggest that parents read aloud to a baby, it can be easier for many parents to cuddle a young child and let them hear the sound of their voice as they read aloud than to think of what to say.

switch - mother & childSecondly, motivating the elephant. The emotional instinct for all parents in wanting to do the best for their children is huge; they often just want to be shown how. Knowing that spending time with their children and connecting with them will help prepare their children for school and for all that follows, and having an easily manageable way to do this, parents are motivated to make change. As Rosa, one of our Reach Out and Read parents said "Reading to my son will make a difference in how he does in school. I want to do that for him."

Finally, shaping the path. Many of the families that Reach Out and Read serves do not have any books at home. By giving each child a new developmentally-appropriate book to take home with them at each of 10 medical checkups from infancy, we provide the tools necessary to implement the change. For those parents, whose first language is not English, we offer books in 12 different languages, and books can even be useful for parents who don't read - we encourage them to talk about the story that the pictures tell. We are also partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to encourage partnerships between Reach Out and Read sites and their local libraries, to expand the selection of books available for families to read aloud.

It is encouraging to read a book that has received accolades for its proposal of a framework that is powerful in creating transformative change, and to see that the Reach Out and Read model has all of the characteristics required. This is substantiated by research showing that parents served by Reach Out and Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud to their children. By continuing to promote parental engagement through reading aloud, and expanding our program to reach more children, Reach Out and Read can bring about the change in parenting practice that will have a powerful impact on their children's, and our society's future. 

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Written by Nikki Shearman at 08:05

Doctors Tell Us that Reach Out and Read Makes a Big Difference

We know that Reach Out and Read is an effective early literacy intervention from our extensive evidence base. Since its foundation, the Reach Out and Read model has been studied by a variety of academic investigators, providing an extensive body of peer-reviewed research on the effects of the program.  This shows that parents served by Reach Out and Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud to their children. Also, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on pre-school vocabulary tests.

Doctors Tell Us that Reach Out and Read Makes a Big Difference This analytical approach is compelling, but we also hear about how Reach Out and Read affects children's lives from the stories that our medical providers tell us. At the cutting edge of the program, they are able to put a human face on the Reach Out and Read story.

They see how excited infants and toddlers are to receive new books, especially in the low-income communities that Reach Out and Read often serves….

"I still am surprised when a family responds with "We don't have any books"! It is wonderful to see the smiles on the child's face when they take home their very own book!"

"The parents and children look forward to receiving books at their checkups. The children are eager to read out loud and look at the pictures. Sometimes this is the first and only time a child will receive a book."

"One little patient of mine had parents in the Military, who were going to be relocated across the country. His Mother told me that he was allowed to take one suitcase of "important things" - the rest would arrive in a week or two. He filled up half of his suitcase with his Reach Out and Read books!"

…How their guidance encourages parents to read to their children frequently……

 "We had given a book to a 6-month-old infant during the checkup. Mom said they did not have books at home. We talked about the importance of early literacy and a language-rich environment to help develop vocabulary and how it all affects brain development. Mom was very interested in what we talked about. But, when she noticed how intrigued baby was with the book, that was when she smiled and said "Maybe we need to get a couple more books because it seems that he likes them!""

…And, most importantly, how families reading together supports the healthy development of children in their care….

"Jayden was a 2-year-old when I first saw him. He was completely attached to his mom, made no eye contact, and spoke absolutely no words other than "mama" and "dada".  His mother was from a low-income background, going through a divorce, and said she could not afford evaluation or speech therapy. I spent about 30 minutes explaining the importance of reading aloud and having fun together. Slowly but surely Jayden showed progress, and at his last visit he came running to me, hugged me and said "Thank you Dr. K--" in a cute but intelligible way. I could understand close to 50% of all that he said, thanks to the Reach Out and Read books that I kept giving him every visit. Yes, books do make a difference, a big difference."

 

Written by Nikki Shearman at 10:45

The Importance of Encouraging Parents to Read Aloud to Their Young Children

There is a well documented and growing achievement gap between children growing up in the United States that starts in early childhood and persists through school and college into adulthood. It has become increasingly important to determine the factors that affect child development, both positively and negatively, so as to identify how we can give every child the opportunity to grow up into well-rounded adults. This is important for the future of our families, our communities and our nation.

Encouraging Parents to Read Aloud to Their Young Children

Advances in neuroscience technology over the last two decades have allowed us to chart human brain development. The evidence is still accumulating, but it is now well established that our brains develop most rapidly during the first few years of life. The brain has reached 95% of its full size by the age of six.1

Areas of the brain associated with specific skills develop sequentially - the sensory pathways develop first, followed by connections that result in language capability, followed by higher cognitive function. What is most significant is that maximal development for all functions occurs during the first five years of life.3

Child development studies have shown that the architecture of the early developing brain is influenced by a child's experience. Nurturing from a loving parent or caregiver stimulates the brain to develop the circuits that provide the foundation for emotional well-being, social competence and cognitive abilities. Conversely, adverse experiences prevent the brain from developing to its full capacity.

The best time to have an impact on children's achievement is during this critical window of early brain development, from birth through five years. And the best way of positively influencing early brain development is to strengthen the capacity of adults to nurture their children. Giving parents guidance about cuddling, talking to, and playing with their infants and toddlers will help them to support their child's development.

So, how do we reach parents of young children with this guidance?

This is where Reach Out and Read comes in! Our program is integrated into the pediatric healthcare system, so that we have repeated and unparalleled access to families with children from birth through five years at well-child checkups. Over 84% of children visit a pediatric healthcare provider during their first year.  By offering guidance about reading aloud to infants and toddlers, as a simple way of encouraging language-rich nurturing, our medical providers can help parents to give their children the best start in life.

1Lenroot, R.K. & Giedd, J.N Brain development in children and adolescents: Insights from anatomical magnetic resonance imaging. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 30 (2006) 718-729 


 

Written by Nikki Shearman at 09:04

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Reach Out and Read National Center
89 South St, Suite 201
Boston, MA 02111