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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. 

We have closed our Comments option due to SPAM, but we welcome your comments on our Facebook and Twitter platforms.

Written by Nikki Shearman at 08:05

Giving Books Should Be as Routine as Giving Immunizations

 

Reach Out and Read is changing the way pediatrics is practiced by giving medical providers an evidence-based strategy to promote healthy child development.

Giving Books Should Be as Routine..

Twenty six years ago, two Boston Medical Center pediatricians recognized their unique opportunity to have an impact on the development, as well as on the health, of the children they served. They adopted a simple model of prescribing books and reading aloud as a means of fostering the language-rich interactions between parents and their young children that stimulate early brain development. 

The effectiveness of this model has been established by peer-reviewed, published studies showing that the children served are read to more often by their parents, have improved language skills, and a greater love of reading.

Over the last two decades, the Reach Out and Read model has been widely adopted by the pediatric healthcare community. The program is now practiced by 21,000 medical providers, at 5,500 program sites across the nation, and is spreading rapidly. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics promoted our program in a policy statement "Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice", that stated:

"By initiating early support for reading aloud….pediatric providers can leverage their unique opportunity to influence children in the very early years of life."

We are committed to continuing to improve our influence on childhood development by supporting research into the impact of early literacy promotion through our Reach Out and Read Young Investigator Awards.

This year, significant interest was generated by groundbreaking research  from one of our Reach Out and Read Young Investigator awardees at the Pediatric Academic Societies conference. Dr. John Hutton, working at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, used MRI imaging of young children's brains to show that reading aloud is associated with differences in brain activity that supports early reading skills.

There were a number of other research presentations at the meeting based on Reach Out and Read, and, as Dr. Tom DeWitt, co-chair of the Reach Out and Read board commented "It's exciting to see so many people exploring different aspects of the intervention - and further evidence of the way that Reach Out and Read has become embedded in pediatric practice and good quality care".

Written by Nikki Shearman at 09:30

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