Writer and pediatrician Perri Klass has always been a champion of sharing books with children, but this month in the New York Times she writes about the issue by mixing research with great human warmth and urgency.
Klass draws on a recent study that found that parents who read and write at home with children boost both literacy and lifetime skills. This topic isn’t new for Klass; she’s the national medical director of Reach Out and Read, the organization that distributes books to children through pediatricians’ offices.
The reading and writing study was conducted by University of Washington researchers who found that “Children who read and write at home — whether for assignments or just for fun — are building long-term study and executive function skills,” according to a press release.
Klass turns the research findings into near poetry:
“The love of reading does begin in the parents’ arms, and it is a sign of love to read to your baby. And because it’s a sign of love, because it links books and written language to the parental affection and attention that babies are built to crave, and to elicit, it does help children acquire a range of early literacy skills. And continued attention by parents to reading and writing activities as children grow up and go to school seems to help them learn how to study and learn.”
For parents, the message is simple and powerful: Love your kid through reading and writing. It’s an investment that could last a lifetime.
These activities, Klass writes, are essential:
“When we speak of literacy and literacy promotion, we need to acknowledge how much literacy encompasses. Yes, it’s a key to success in school, with all that implies about life trajectory, earning power and socioeconomic status. It’s also a key to citizenship and enfranchisement in society, to your ability to understand and take part in all the discourse that shapes your community and your country and your world. It’s the product of a whole range of brain circuits from vocabulary and vision and visual processing to memory and meaning.”
The study’s co-author and educational psychology professor Virginia W. Berninger explains in the Times article, “It’s not just the skills the parents teach at home, it’s also how they help their children’s self-regulation, sometimes called executive function.”
Nicole Alston-Abel, a Federal Way Public Schools psychologist who conducted the study while pursuing her doctorate at the UW, explains, “People who are good students tend to become good employees by being on time and putting forward their best work. All of the things that make you a good student also make you a good employee… If you make sure your child is academically engaged at home through third grade, kids go on autopilot — they know how to ‘do’ school after that.”
Literacy involves all aspects of language, Professor Berninger says in the Times article, noting, “our oral language, what we hear and say, and our written language, what we read and write.” It is, she says, “language by ear, mouth, eye and hand.”
“And when you take a very young child on your lap and point to the pictures and ask questions, when you make the animal sounds or recite ‘goodnight bears, goodnight chairs’ one more time, you are making the kinds of direct connections that build young children’s brains and condition their minds and memories.”
It’s a strong early start that can make a difference.