How important is early literacy in a child’s development? And when we say early, how early is that? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has weighed in on the matter with a number of policy statements and technical reports, and the results just might surprise you.
The AAP recommends that pediatricians promote early literacy development for children starting while they’re in infancy and continuing until at least the time they enter kindergarten. According to the AAP’s policy statement, five ways doctors can help are:
“1. Advising all parents that reading aloud with young children can enhance parent-child relationships and prepare young minds to learn language and early literacy skills;
2. Counseling all parents about developmentally appropriate shared-reading activities that are enjoyable for children and their parents and offer language-rich exposure to books, pictures, and the written word;
3. Providing developmentally appropriate books given at health supervision visits for all high-risk, low-income young children;
4. Using a robust spectrum of options to support and promote these efforts; and
5. Partnering with other child advocates to influence national messaging and policies that support and promote these key early shared-reading experiences.”
In addition, the AAP supports both federal and state funding for children’s books to be provided in pediatricians’ offices to children at high risk living at or near the poverty threshold, as well as the integration of literacy promotion into pediatric resident education.
“Our new knowledge of early brain and child development has revealed that modifiable factors in a child’s early experience can greatly affect that child’s learning trajectory. Many U.S. children enter kindergarten with limitations in their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development that might have been significantly diminished or eliminated through early identification of and attention to child and family needs. Pediatricians have a role in promoting school readiness for all children, beginning at birth, through their practices and advocacy. The AAP affords pediatricians many opportunities to promote the physical, social-emotional, and educational health of young children, with other advocacy groups,” the AAP states in a technical report.
In that same technical report, the AAP defines a child’s readiness as:
- “Physical well-being and motor development, including health status, growth, and disability;
- Social and emotional development, including turn-taking, cooperation, empathy, and the ability to express one’s own emotions;
- Approaches to learning, including enthusiasm, curiosity, temperament, culture, and values;
- Language development, including listening, speaking, and vocabulary, as well as literacy skills, including print awareness, story sense, and writing and drawing processes; and
- General knowledge and cognition, including sound-letter association, spatial relations, and number concepts.”
The AAP recommendations carry a lot of weight, and doctors work closely with parents and caregivers to ensure they’re carried out, but let’s take a look at some of the reasoning behind their efforts.
From the day a child is born, his brain begins forming connections very quickly; these connections will build the foundation for all learning that takes place later in his life. A whopping 90% of children’s critical brain development occurs by the time they turn five. Their vocabulary development at the age of three has been discovered to predict reading achievement by third grade. The quality and quantity of language that they hear in their first three years contributes to their cognitive development, and the interactions children have with language in their earliest years form the foundation of their ability to be able to read and to understand the material moving forward. If children enter school behind their peers, they rarely catch up. Research indicates that children who are struggling readers in the 1st grade are 88% more likely to be struggling readers in the 4th grade. This latter category is four times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school. There is so much attention paid to 3rd grade reading scores because it is at that level that children stop learning how to read and start reading to learn. If children are not on track by this critical point, their chances for success decrease substantially.
What are ways that parents can work with pediatricians and teachers to help their children have the best language/literacy start possible? We’ll discuss that in next week’s blog.
 American Academy of Pediatrics. (June 2014). Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/06/19/peds.2014-1384
 High, Pamela C. (April 2008). School Readiness, in Pediatrics, Vol. 121 / Issue 4. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/4/e1008.full?sid=9796681d-87ac-4b77-8842-1ba581fd10be
 Make Way for Books. (2017). Importance of Early Literacy. Retrieved from http://makewayforbooks.org/early-literacy/