Read Every Day: A Healthy Prescription for Your Child

Reading builds motivation, curiosity and memory. It nurtures children and encourages them to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.
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"Read every Day."

It's a simple phrase with a powerful message, one that I've repeated time and again to the young children and parents I've seen over the years I've spent in pediatric medicine: How important is it? It may be the single, most important prescription I hand to you in your child's early years.

Health? How in the world would reading have a positive impact on health? That piece of advice can make the difference between a child who succeeds in school and one who struggles.Succeeding in school and having an education, which leads to a satisfying career, opens up endless possibilities. On the other hand, one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

"Read Every Day." Three little words that, if taken seriously, can change the outcome of a life. The first three to five years of life represent a critical window for learning, with rapid brain development that does not occur at any other time. By age 3, a child's brain grows billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells during this time. Everything a child soaks up during these years helps to set the stage for future learning; these years are truly the foundation on which the rest of life sits.

I am far from the only one. More than 12,000 of my colleagues say this to families across the country daily. Through Reach Out and Read, these medical providers arm more than 4 million families with books and knowledge about the importance reading to children beginning in infancy.

The research, including 15 peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of Reach Out and Read, shows us that books in the home, and involved parents make a world of difference in a child's school, and overall life success. During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests, preparing them to start school on target.

Unfortunately, many children, especially from low-income families, are not read to in these years. The disparity in reading resources is staggering. According to the New York Times, a study found a ratio of one book for sale for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods; however, another study found the ratio was 13 books to every one child in middle-income neighborhoods. Children who grow up without sufficient exposure to language often struggle with reading in early grades. An APA study shows that only 20 percent of 4-year-olds in poverty can recognize all 26 letters, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above the poverty level. When they start off behind, chances are they will stay behind, never achieving their full potential.

Reading aloud to your child every day, beginning at birth, can prevent your child from being part of this startling statistic. Reading builds motivation, curiosity and memory. It nurtures children and encourages them to form a positive association with books and reading later in life. If you read aloud to your children there's a strong chance they'll become good readers and in turn, develop a love of reading that will carry them through school, work and beyond.

Earlier this month, Scholastic unveiled a stunning artwork collection by 13 children's book illustrators who created their personal interpretation of the message "Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life" (#ReadEveryDay). This campaign provides a call-to-action for you to embody this credo in your own home - and also help other families, especially those without easy access to books for their children, to connect with the message in their homes. More than ever, it takes a village to help a child succeed.

So, pick up a book and read with the children in your life. Create a community, explore, imagine and, together, we can create a new generation of readers and a rich set of futures.

Dr Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. He is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Director of the UW Pediatric Early Literacy Projects, and Director of the MD-MPH Dual-Degree Program. Find him on Twitter @navsaria.

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