Vail Daily health story: ‘Immunizing against illiteracy’ |

Vail Daily health story: ‘Immunizing against illiteracy’

Caramie Schnell
Cheyanne Morales, age 10 and a half months, is read to every night by her parents. Though at times it seems she'd rather gnaw on the book, research shows it's important to read to kids from birth on, even if it doesn't seem like it's making a difference.
Clair Smith | Special to the Daily |

Help Your Child Be Ready to Read and Ready to Learn

• Talk to your infant and toddler to help him learn to speak and understand the meaning of words. Point to objects that are near and describe them as you play and do daily activities together. Having a large vocabulary gives a child a great start when he enters school.

• Read to your baby every day starting at six months of age. Reading and playing with books is a wonderful way to spend special time with her. Hearing words over and over helps her become familiar with them. Reading to your baby is one of the best ways to help her learn.

• Use sounds, songs, gestures and words that rhyme to help your baby learn about language and its many uses. Babies need to hear language from a human being. Television is just noise to a baby.

• Point out the printed words in your home and other places you take your child such as the grocery store. Spend as much time listening to your child as you do talking to him.

• Take children’s books and writing materials with you whenever you leave home. This gives your child fun activities to entertain and occupy him while traveling and going to the doctor’s office or other appointments.

• Create a quiet, special place in your home for your child to read, write and draw. Keep books and other reading materials where your child can easily reach them.

• Help your child see that reading is important. Set a good example for your child by reading books, newspapers and magazines.

• Limit the amount and type of television you and your child watch. Better yet, turn off the television and spend more time cuddling and reading books with your child. The time and attention you give your child has many benefits beyond helping him be ready for success in school.

• Reach out to libraries and community and faith-based organizations. These organizations can:

Help you find age-appropriate books to use at home with your child;

Show you creative ways to use books with your child and other tips to help her learn; and

Provide year-round children’s reading and educational activities.

— Source: U.S. Department of Education

Along with asking about my 9 month old’s developmental milestones, giving advice about teething and discussing how much she’s eating, sleeping and the like, at her most recent well baby checkup my pediatrician asked if my husband and I read to her.

“Almost every day,” I replied.

I still remember the world that reading opened up to me as a child. The quintessential bookworm, I always had my face in a book. I’m convinced it made me a better student. My husband has a similar story, pun intended, and we hope to pass on our mutual love for reading to her.

Gypsum resident Clair Smith has fond memories of being read to as a child, which is part of why she reads every day to her 10-and-a-half-month old daughter, Cheyanne.

“A book is part of our nighttime ritual,” she said.

She started the daily book sessions back when Cheyanne would mostly sleep through them.

“I started reading to her within her first month,” Smith said. “That’s just how I was raised — my grandparents and parents read to me all the time.”

Cheyanne even has a favorite book already, a board book called “Little Owl’s Night,” which Smith admits “isn’t very interesting for an adult to read,” but it is one that her daughter clearly prefers.

Smith began reading to Cheyanne before she knew about the research backing it, but since then she’s learned about the benefits and that has reinforced the ritual, even if it seems her daughter would rather gnaw on the board books — which Smith calls “edible books” — more than anything else.


Our doctor’s recent question got me wondering about the documented health benefits, of which there are plenty. The American Academy of Pediatrics says reading to children stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills. And the earlier you start reading to them, the better. In the first six years, children learn at a much faster pace than at any other time in their lives. While it might not seem like babies who would prefer to eat the book rather than sit quietly and listen to it are paying attention, it’s still making a difference.

While reading to a child, you’re giving them your undivided attention, something that’s extremely important, according to Dr. Pamela High, the lead author of a literacy promotion report released this past summer. High is professor of pediatrics at Brown University and former president of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

“It’s a real one-on-one opportunity for children to communicate with their parents and parents to communicate with their children,” High said during an interview with PBS Newshour in June. “You know, we know that the more words that are in a child’s language world, the more words they will learn, and the stronger their language skills are when they reach kindergarten, the more prepared they are to be able to read, and the better they read, the more likely they will graduate from high school.”


The academy usually weighs in on issues like immunizations and breast feeding, but as of this summer, literacy promotion also joins the list as an essential component of primary care. They’re asking their 62,000 members to become advocates for reading, telling parents at each well-baby visit just how important it is to read to a child from birth.

According to the academy, more than one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read. About two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of the third grade. By reading to children earlier, the academy hopes to reduce those numbers.

In an interview with The Hechinger Report, High said that the “read to your child” message is important to relay to all parents, regardless of socioeconomic bracket.

“Although there is an emphasis on children growing up in disadvantaged situations, the fact of the matter is, when we look at the National Survey of Children’s Health, only 60 percent of children under the age of 5 with (parental) incomes above 400 percent of the poverty level are being read to every day, as compared to about a third of children in families living below the poverty threshold,” she said. “On average, maybe about half of the children under the age of 5 in our country are being read to daily. There’s a lot of folks who could be advantaged by the message that this is a fun, important, positive way to promote your child’s development and your relationship with your child. … For low-income children, giving them a book is immunizing them against illiteracy later on, but the major tool is (connecting with) the parent, the human being that’s there nurturing that child, and the book is a vehicle for doing that.”

The next time my doctor asks about reading, my answer will be slightly different, with no “almost” about it.

“Every day” is how we’ll answer.

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