Winter Letter 2015

Books Build Brains

Lately, it seems baby books are popping up everywhere, and everyone is talking about “infant literacy.” At the hospital where I work, we recently started giving picture books to new moms for their babies. Several patients have told me they requested baby books instead of cards at their baby showers. And, at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics last fall, doctors addressed the importance of reading to babies right from the start.

Don’t be surprised if during the first few well-baby visits, your pediatrician hands you a picture book and talks about the lifelong benefits of reading to your baby – even at this tender age. Doctors are spreading the news by making this information an “essential component” of primary care visits.

There’s good reason for all this. In 2013, researchers at Stanford University found language gaps can begin in infancy. Their study showed by age two, there was a six-month gap in skills needed for language development between children from low-income homes and those from more affluent settings. Other research showed poorer children hear 30 million fewer words than better-off children by age four. These language and vocabulary gaps result in learning disadvantages that can persist into adulthood. However, research shows when low-income kids are read to daily, the gap diminishes.

And, consider this. There is a biological window in which a baby’s brain is especially receptive to language and learning. However, brain development doesn’t happen off-screen but, rather, with human interaction and relationships. All good reason to unplug devices and cuddle up with your little one and a book – face to face.

I remember doing just that with my son, Will. I still have fond memories of him chewing on his favorite shapes book as I tried to read to him. As he got older, Will loved to hear rhymes, and it wasn’t long before he was reading me “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” – over and over again, laughing every time. He also loved a book about a friendly ghost in the house. Reading became part of the bedtime routine that we both looked forward to.

Will is 12 now – and it doesn’t happen all the time – but, sometimes, we still read together. At times, we read to each other. Other times, we read a book independently and then talk about it. Surprisingly, I enjoy his middle-school books more than I imagined, and I love our time talking together. Even though my tween is too cool to admit it, I know he does, too. I do believe part of the reason reading and writing comes easily to Will now is because we started reading together in those early days. I hope you do the same for your little one.

Warm Regards,

Linda Ciampa, RN