Pediatrician Explains How Doing This One Thing Early Can Change A Child's Life

"If we wait until kids are in school, it's too late."

Reading to your infant or young child is a beautiful bonding experience, but there’s far more happening in these literary moments beyond a parent and kid spending time together. In fact, explains pediatrician Jill Alexander, reading (or not reading) to children in the home can shape their entire academic future ― even if the little one is years away from going to school.

Speaking about the vital importance of reading on the monthly series “The Hero Effect,” Alexander emphasizes why reading to babies and children who are so young can have such a long-term impact. “We know that 90 percent of brain development happens before a child is 5,” she says. “If we wait until kids are in school, it’s too late.”

Children who are not read to in the home can suffer greatly once they enter school. Those from lower-income homes, Alexander continues, are believed to have a 30-million word gap when compared to their more affluent peers who have been read to, by the time they enter kindergarten. This can make catching up academically nearly impossible.

“If they’re not ready in kindergarten to start learning, they’re not going to be at grade-level by the time they’re in third grade. And if you’re not reading at grade-level in third grade, you get to fourth then fifth and we start having school truancy and dropping out of school,” Alexander says.

“We know that 90 percent of brain development happens before a child is 5.”

- Jill Alexander, pediatrician

To help promote literacy from an early age, Alexander spoke with like-minded family friend Carolyn Jons, the founder of Iowa’s “Raising Readers in Story County.” Jons was eager to lend the organization’s help to improve early language and literary development, so Alexander inquired about adopting the nationwide “Reach Out and Read” program for her pediatric practice.

“I said, ‘What I’d really like is to have a book to give at every well check-up for kids to encourage reading and get parents to start reading with their kids when they’re young,” Alexander says.

Thanks to the support of “Raising Readers in Story County,” Alexander’s patients soon saw the benefits of “Reach Out and Read.”

“It’s an amazing asset to our community,” says mom Gretchen Schaefer. “It helps kids get access to books and really helps us figure out that it’s very important for them to be reading and understand that it’s something we need to be doing at a very young age.”

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