AAP Calling on Pediatricians to Promote Early Literacy


By Laurel Wills, MD, pediatrician at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare

In June of 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a landmark policy statement calling on pediatricians to promote reading aloud to children every day, starting in infancy. The recommendations represent the organization’s first official policy calling on both pediatricians and policy makers to make books available for families, especially for those living in poverty.

Shockingly, children in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than their more financially advantaged peers by age 4. This staggering “opportunity gap” manifests in developmental disparities, seen as early as 18 months of age. The tasks at hand are significant: to address the factors in a child’s early life that influence later achievement gaps; intentionally and efficiently build the capacity and capabilities of parents to be their child’s first teacher; scale it effectively and inexpensively across broad populations; and incorporate it into the ever-tighter time frame of the well-child visit. Fortunately, a solution was developed 25 years ago. Today, it takes a new step forward.

Through the national Reach Out and Read program, established in 1989, pediatricians promote sharing books with children from their earliest months, to stimulate a love of reading, enhance parent-child relationships, and prepare children for success in school.

The simple, yet powerful model accomplishes this through developmental surveillance and early literacy promotion. At every checkup, starting in infancy and continuing until at least school-age, pediatricians give out a brand new, developmentally-, culturally- and language-appropriate book to the child. The provider then discusses and models shared reading between parents and young children, and assesses for potential barriers.

Reach Out and Read got a foothold in Minnesota in 1997 when two clinics in Minneapolis began using the program. Today, more than 92,500 children annually via 154 clinics statewide and more than 1,300 pediatric providers participate. One in three low-income children (one in four overall) in Minnesota are now enjoying one or more of the 157,000 books that Reach Out and Read Minnesota distributes each year, along with a prescription for their parents to read to them daily. This has been accomplished through the efforts of many community and healthcare organizations, coming together across the state to deliver Reach Out and Read.

At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America’s recent annual meeting in Denver, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the impact of the AAP policy statement on children’s development and unveiled a new partnership between the AAP, Too Small to Fail, The Clinton Foundation, Reach Out and Read, and Scholastic, Inc. To jump start the project, Scholastic will donate 500,000 books to Reach Out and Read National for distribution to families most in need.

Promoting children’s literacy will require work and commitment by the health care community, education, government and industry, but the solution is not all that complicated. In a world filled with advanced medical devices, cutting-edge research, and innovative medications, it may seem surprising that one of the most useful tools in pediatrics is a children’s book.

Statement prepared by: Amy Shriver, MD, medical director for Reach Out and Read Iowa; Dipesh Navsaria, MD, medical director for Reach Out and Read Wisconsin; Nathan Chomilo, MD, .medical director for Reach Out and Read Minnesota; and Laurel Wills, MD, advisory board member, Reach Out and Read Minnesota.

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