To the Editor:
As the leader of a team of 30,000 doctors, nurses, and volunteers committed to ensuring that every child arrives at kindergarten prepared to succeed, I could not agree more with Elanna S. Yalow’s argument that the most critical investments we can make in education are in the first five years of life (“‘Kindergarten Ready’ Needs to Be the New ‘College and Career Ready,’” Commentary, edweek.org, July 26, 2010).
High-quality early-childhood-education programs will be part of the solution, but it’s important that we also recognize the role of parents as children’s first educators. They can single-handedly change the developmental arc of their children, through reading to them every day, beginning at birth. In fact, a study published in the February 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics showed that the gap in communication skills between infants who are read to and those who are not is already evident at 6 months of age.
Unfortunately, far too few American parents recognize the importance of reading aloud to young children, and less than half do it daily. So how do we reach parents in the years before school to help them understand their immense power for change?
The founders of Reach Out and Read discovered that pediatricians are the ideal messengers for promoting early literacy and school readiness, because they see 96 percent of all children under the age of 6 at least once annually, and they’ve earned the trust of parents. So at every regular checkup, participating doctors give a brand-new book to their youngest patients and share age-appropriate reading tips with parents. Children served by the program enter kindergarten with a home library of 10 books, as well as a larger vocabulary and a six-month developmental edge.
Improving outcomes for America’s students will take time, but by empowering parents with the proper guidance and tools, we can make a significant impact in the “kindergarten readiness” of millions of children nationwide.
Earl Martin Phalen
Chief Executive Officer
Reach Out and Read
A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Kindergarten Ready’ May Begin With a Book