Fact Sheet on the Importance of Reading to Infants and Young Children

American families need relevant, focused, timely information concerning their children's well-being. Most parents know that it is nice to read to children every day, but are unaware of the newest discoveries in neuroscience showing that reading aloud actually stimulates the growth of a baby's brain. The AAP has put together a short list of citations to help adults understand that reading aloud to children is as important as fastening their seat belts and providing good nutrition.

A burst of research activity in the past few years is giving us a whole new understanding of how the brain develops and the crucial role of early language experiences, including reading.

Extraordinary advances in neuroscience have been facilitated by the development of sophisticated research tools such as brain imaging technologies, making it possible to study the actual growth and workings of the brain.

These technological advances have come at a time of growing concern about the health, well-being and academic achievement of America's children. Several important conferences, including a White House Summit in the Spring of 1997, have focused not only on the scientific findings but on their public policy implications as well.1

What the research shows :

An infant's brain structure is not genetically determined. Early experiences have a decisive impact on the architecture of a baby's brain.2

"A child care provider reads to a toddler. And in a matter of seconds, thousands of cells in these children's growing brains respond. Some brain cells are 'turned on,' triggered by this particular experience. Many existing connections among brain cells are strengthened. At the same time, new brain cells are formed, adding a bit more definition and complexity to the intricate circuitry that will remain largely in place for the rest of these children's lives."3

The development of early literacy skills through early experiences with books and stories is critically linked to a child's success in learning to read.4

Development of literacy is a continuous process that begins early in life and depends heavily on environmental influences.5

Children who are read to from an early age are more successful at learning to read.6

". . . reading aloud to children is the single most important intervention for developing their literacy skills," according to a 1985 study by the National Commission on Reading.7

Early reading experiences are now recognized as being of such importance that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "pediatricians prescribe reading activities along with other instructions given to parents at the time of well-child visits." The President of the Academy, Dr. Robert E. Hannemann, stated: "We strongly recommend daily reading to children from six months of age."8

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1. Brain Development in Young Children: New Frontiers for Research, Policy and Practice, University of Chicago, June 1996; White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning, April 1997.

2. Rethinking the Brain: New Insights Into Early Development, Report of the Conference on Brain Development, University of Chicago. (This report is available from the Families and Work Institute, 330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001.)

3. Ibid

4. Snow, C.E. & Ninio, A. (1988) "The Contacts of Literacy: What Children Learn from Learning to Read Books," in W.H. Teale & E. Sulzby (Ed.) Emergent Literacy: Writing and Reading, Norwood (as cited in Reach Out and Read Program Manual)

5. Schickendanz, J.A. (1986) More Than ABC's: The Early Stages of Reading and Writing, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC

6. Teale, W. (1988). "Emergent Literacy as a Perspective for Examining How Young Children Become Readers and Writers," Emergent Literacy, Norwood.

7. As quoted in "A Pediatric" Early Literacy Program," the Program Manual for Reach Out and Read.

8. Press Statement, American Academy of Pediatrics, April 16, 1997 (for additional information, American Academy of Pediatrics, Chicago, IL - 847-981-7131)