Families & the Community

Parents Take Early Literacy Advice from Doctors to Heart, New Study Finds

By Marva Hinton — October 22, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A small intervention to increase early literacy had a big impact on families that received pediatric care at a clinic in San Francisco.

That was the major finding of a study that examined the Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing program, which is an early literacy intervention led by Too Small to Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation.

Researchers with the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted the study, which was released this month. It looked at the program between August 2016 and May 2017.

Too Small to Fail partnered with doctors and nurse practitioners at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Children’s Health Center, an outpatient pediatric clinic, to provide information and materials encouraging parents of children from birth to age 3 to talk, read, and sing to their children.

The healthcare providers helped the parents to see how interacting with their children supported the child’s brain development.

Dr. Neeti Doshi works as a pediatrician at the clinic and took part in the program.

“Supporting early-childhood development is kind of at the crux of pediatrics,” said Doshi. “It’s what brought me into pediatrics. Pediatricians appreciate and understand the importance of early literacy as a component of promoting development and ensuring overall child well-being.”

Increase in Positive Parent-Child Interactions

Researchers interviewed 370 parents immediately before and after the Talking is Teaching intervention and then again eight to 12 weeks later. They also conducted four focus groups with 26 of the parents.

After talking with their health care provider and receiving a toolkit, 80 percent of parents reported talking, reading and singing more to their children.

“To us, this signals a huge potential for growth and reinforces the importance of this simple intervention,” said Patti Miller, the CEO of Too Small to Fail.

Within four months, 84 percent of parents reported seeing a change in their child’s behavior.

“If they are seeing a difference in their baby, it means that they are interacting more with their child, and that carries so much weight—especially for a young baby’s brain and especially for many of our families who are living in a lot of psychosocial stress,” said Doshi, who noted that San Francisco General only sees patients who are uninsured or on MediCal, California’s Medicaid program.

The researchers found that many of the parents in the study were already talking (87 percent) and singing often to their children (81 percent) prior to the intervention. But the number of parents who reported reading to their children regularly was much lower, at 47 percent.

Keys for Spanish-Speaking Parents

Nearly 70 percent of the parents who took part in the study spoke Spanish. Parents could choose to receive materials in either English or Spanish.

The study revealed some statistically significant differences between Spanish-speaking parents and English-speaking parents. Spanish-speaking parents were less likely to read to their children regularly than English-speaking parents (41 percent versus 59 percent). They were also more likely to report that they learned something new from their doctors (59 percent) compared to English-speaking parents (28 percent).

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital recently announced that it planned to expand the program to every family that gives birth at the hospital. Starting this month, each newborn discharged from the hospital will receive materials, including books and tip sheets that encourage parents to engage in quality interactions from birth.

Image by Getty

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.