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Closing the Achievement Gap Requires Interventions that Target Children from the Earliest Years

With the author's permission, this article is an adaptation of a letter to the editor of Pediatrics by Reach Out and Read Co-Founder Dr. Robert Needlman M.D., F.A.A.P. following the publication of the report Positive Parenting Practices, Health Disparities, and Developmental Progress

Reading aloud statistics

A new study published inPediatrics last month provides further evidence that economic disadvantage is associated with fewer stimulating early childhood experiences and increased risk of developmental delays. Working with data from 12,642 children 4 to 36 months of age, Shah and colleagues analyzed interactive parent practices, such as reading aloud, talking and playing, and showed that "less participation in interactive activities is associated with increased risk of development delay among those experiencing significant adversity."

This report confirms and builds on the message of the landmark Hart & Risley study, published 20 years ago that studied a total of 42 children intensely over 30 months, recording at intervals every word that was said to them, and every word they said in turn. These scientists found that by the age of four, children from lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers.

That these two disparate approaches reached the same conclusion is reassuring. That the underlying reality has remained unchanged for 20 years, that is, the propagation of social and developmental disadvantage, is not.

What has changed is the response to the problem. Both studies conclude that the achievement gap starts in infancy, and is already established by the age of four. Closing the achievement gap, therefore, depends on interventions that target children from the earliest days. Shah and colleagues go further to suggest that pediatricians have a vital role to play in delivering programs that strengthen parenting practices for the very young. "The advantages are that the primary care setting is established, non-stigmatizing, accessible locally, and has the potential to disseminate parenting interventions."

Reading aloud 2There are now many programs, both local and national, that seek to influence early childhood development, and several that operate through the primary care setting. Of the latter, Reach Out and Read is a well-established and successful non-profit organization - implemented in every state, in more than 5,500 clinics, and in virtually every pediatric training program. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, that recommends "pediatric providers promote early literacy development" references Reach Out and Read as an effective intervention to engage parents and prepare children to achieve their potential.

Reach Out and Read was developed some 26 years ago and uses a simple time-honored model in which medical providers give books to children at each of their well-child checkups and encourage their parents to read aloud to them. It is supported by a large body of published research showing that the children we serve are read to more often by their parents, have improved language skills and a greater love of reading. Reach Out and Read now serves over 4.5 million children annually, including one in five disadvantaged children. We still have a long way to go, and we plan to continue to grow and reach more families and children across the nation, but as we contemplate how far we have yet to go in our efforts to combat social disadvantage, it's important to keep in mind how far we have come.

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
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