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Why doctors are making a new push for parents to read to kids — even infants

For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines on reading to kids — including infants. Start early, read often and if a family may be too poor to have its own books, doctors should provide some, the group says.

The guidelines were released Tuesday and call for parents to read aloud to children every day beginning from birth.

"All families need to hear the important message that reading aloud to their children is crucial, especially in an era in which competing entertainment imperatives, such as screen time (television, cinema, video games and computers), may limit family interactions and live language exposures of even very young children," the AAP guideline said.

In a release about the new policy, the group noted that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to announce a partnership later in the day at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver between Too Small to Fail; Scholastic; and Reach Out and Read.

"This partnership will help pediatricians share messages and tools with parents about the importance of talking, reading and singing to children in order to close the word gap, including through a pediatric toolkit that will be distributed to pediatricians and health care providers across the country. Scholastic is donating more than 500,000 books for distribution with this toolkit, and Reach Out and Read will expand the outreach to more than 5,000 hubs across the country," according to an AAP statement.

Publishers Weekly explains the partnership this way: "Each of the initiative partners plays a key role. The AAP is developing a toolkit with Too Small to Fail that will contain concrete tips and information about early language and development that emphasize talking, reading and singing to children. The kits will be made available to parents by the more than 62,000 AAP doctors nationwide. For its part, Scholastic is giving the new initiative a boost by donating 500,000 new, age-appropriate books to Reach Out and Read, the organization that works with more than 20,000 pediatric providers to advise parents about early literacy and provide them with books."

According to The New York Times, "With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group ... is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor.

“It should be there each time we touch bases with children,” Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy, told The NY Times. "It recommends that doctors tell parents they should be 'reading together as a daily fun family activity' from infancy."

Research shows that fewer than half of young Americans are read to daily, according to Reach Out and Read. Numbers are even lower for children who are poor or belong to minorities. One study found that kids in middle- and upper-class families enter kindergarten with a "listening vocabulary of 20,000 words," compared to 3,000 words for children living in poverty.

Reach Out and Read said that lack of funds for books, not understanding the value of reading aloud, work demands and other factors may be responsible for lower rates of reading with children in low-income families.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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