by Ted Maple, Ph.D., President and CEO
In the age of iPads and on-demand TV, books are still important. It is stating the obvious to say that parents and teachers should keep reading books to young children. We know the importance of reading aloud from the very beginning of childhood for a child’s love of books, language development and vocabulary. This single act, repeated over and over again, can benefit children in multiple ways.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children who are read to during infancy and preschool years have better language skills when they start school and are more interested in reading…In addition, parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for a child’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development.”
Reading to a preschooler actually builds his brain.
Last year, researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital proved it by observing MRIs of the brains of three- and four-year-olds who were being read to and were in literacy-rich home environments. No surprises. Important parts of their brains had “greater activity” than children who were just listening to background noise and in homes where reading was less prevalent.
But parents and teachers don’t need brain scans to know the value of “lap time.” There is nothing better than a young child toddling over to you and climbing onto your lap with a book. What you read and how you read it is less important than the closeness the child and adult experience together. Nothing better.
This is why I am so pleased that important institutions in our community are committed to the goal of putting more books in the hands of young children and their families and promoting reading in the early years. Our Indianapolis Public Library, like many libraries, is adapting to the digital age while continuing to increase access to books. Among the Library’s many initiatives, they provide fine-free library cards to young children called “My First Library Card.” They also partner with United Way and local child care centers to give away age-appropriate books through a program called “Early Readers Club.”
Most recently, the Indianapolis Public Library launched a new campaign called “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.” Parents can sign up at any Indy library branch and start logging books (from home or the library) that they read with their young child. It is kind of like a year-round summer reading program. The Library celebrates milestones of 100, 500 and 1,000 books with families and gives away prizes for each level. If parents read just one book per night they can surpass the 1,000-book goal in three years. More info on this new program is available at www.indypl.org.
There are so many big, complicated challenges that we parents face. Most of them don’t have simple solutions. Reading to children is a simple solution. If we want our children to go to kindergarten with better language skills, vocabularies, and attitudes about reading, we know what to do. Read to them every day. It’s not a new flashy idea, but it works. We can’t be reminded enough.