Parents bringing infants to the doctor for routine immunizations and growth charting can expect to hear new advice from their pediatrician: Read to your baby every day.
Story time routines benefit even the youngest children, helping them to build vocabulary and communication skills critical to later success in school, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said on Tuesday in a new policy statement.
For babies, literacy can begin with cuddle time and brightly colored books, the largest group of U.S. pediatricians advised. Rhyming, playing, talking and singing are among the age-appropriate activities promoting early literacy.
"You're not teaching a two-month-old how to read," said Dr. Danette Glassy, a pediatrician near Seattle, Washington, who co-chairs the AAP's Council on Early Childhood. "Your sitting down with them makes your baby smart and wise."
Experts say reading or storytelling in early life predicts how well children will do when they enter preschool, which translates to how they do when they start kindergarten, associated with achievement later in school and in life.
Yet the 2011–2012 National Survey of Children's Health found that only one-third of U.S. children living in poverty were read to daily from birth to five years of age.
By comparison, the survey found that 60 percent of children from higher-income families received daily reading time. Pediatricians see room for improvement at all income levels.
"Even the most affluent family can be distracted from interacting with their baby," Glassy said. "They can entertain their babies in non-human ways with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos that interfere with their development."
In previous recommendations, the AAP has discouraged parents from exposing children under the age of two years to television and other forms of screen media entertainment, which can be detrimental to language development.
Glassy said encouraging reading to children from infancy will help the organization's 62,000 pediatricians promote an alternative way for families to pass time with young children.
(This story was refiled to clarify headline)
(Editing by Sandra Maler)