Parents can help their children develop those skills most of all by reading aloud to them every day. Unfortunately, less than 50 percent of American children under 5, and only 57 percent of those in Pennsylvania, are read to every day. Many parents weren't read to as children, don't have access to books, or don't understand the impact a simple daily routine can have on their children's lives.
How can we get this message to parents before their children enter school? It turns out that pediatricians are the ideal messengers.
Pediatricians have earned the trust of parents, and 96 percent of children 5 and under visit a doctor at least once a year. That gives pediatricians unmatched access to families during the most critical years of a child's life.
That's why, through the Reach Out and Read program, I became one of 27,000 doctors nationwide who make school readiness a standard component of the care we provide beginning at 6 months of age. Reach Out and Read's evidence-based model has pediatric primary-care providers giving each of their patients a new, age-appropriate book at every checkup and speaking with their parents about the importance of reading aloud to them every day.
Reach Out and Read was founded in 1989 by pediatricians and early-childhood educators, and 14 published studies have shown it works. In Pennsylvania, the 74,334 young children and families involved in the program read together more often. These children enter kindergarten more prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills.
A key recommendation of the Casey Foundation report is to embed reading "in the agencies and institutions that work and interact with young children and families." Reach Out and Read is working to achieve that goal in Pennsylvania and nationwide, to address the obstacles low-income children and families face, and to actively engage parents in the process.
Parents and pediatricians may not be able to solve this problem on our own. But we can ensure that more children have the tools and the opportunity to excel in school and life.
Dr. Trude Haecker is a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the medical director of Reach Out and Read Greater Philadelphia. For more information, see www.reachoutandread.org and www.rorgp.org.