It's hard to overstate the importance of reading: It has a positive effect on the development of everything from vocabulary and general knowledge to thinking skills. Studies have shown that whether or not a child reads for pleasure is more likely to determine how well he or she does in school than either social or economic background.
Students who don't read well will have difficulty learning academic content, succeeding in school, and fulfilling their potential afterward. Researchers have found that reading makes those who read smarter, regardless of their natural intellectual abilities.
Parents play a critical role when it comes to instilling a love of reading in children. Reading together from an early age is an important way to help children develop not only a love of reading, but also an understanding of print, an important first step in learning to read.
When reading with young children, draw their attention to the text itself so they can begin to understand what letters are; how groups of letters form words; our convention of reading left to right; and the fact that printed words map directly to spoken words. Another way parents can send children a positive message about reading is to be readers themselves.
From an early age, children should I be exposed to a wide variety of books and other reading materials. That doesn't mean they need a huge personal collection of books. Reading at the library and borrowing books to bring home is a wonderful bonding experience and an excellent way to show children that reading is a valued and fun activity for many people in the community.
For one Summit Health doctor, encouraging reading is part of his calling as a family-practice physician. In fact, he says, it's an issue he can't afford not to take a stance on given Franklin County's poor literacy rates.
Books for kids
"Through my work with the varied patient populations for which I provide care, I can testify to the fact that we need new ways to stimulate childhood and adult literacy," says Dr. Stephen Flack. "Encouraging children to read is a huge part of their wellness and development."
In April 2017, Dr. Flack's practice, WellSpan Family Medicine in Chambersburg, opened a new chapter in the fight against poor literacy rates by creating a "Book Nook." Following each wellness visit, pediatric patients can select an age-appropriate book to take home with them.
The office has been designated an approved site by Reach Out and Read, a national program recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That means providers are following evidencebased standards to help promote early literacy and school readiness. The program is coming this fall to Summit Primary Care in Shippensburg.
The project has gained the support of community members. The Rotary Club of Chambersburg donated $500 to help support the program.
"It's an amazing feeling to know the community stands behind this effort," says Dr. Flack. "We know our children are our future, so we must make sure we are incorporating care for not just their physical health, but setting them up with the skills they need to succeed in their education and future careers."
Encouraging reading goes beyond children's intellectual development. When parents nurture their little ones through activities like reading, playing, and singing, they're creating meaningful bonds, which can help to reduce child abuse and neglect.
"Life is busy and it often seems there's a never-ending list of tasks for families to get through. This worsens stress, which has an adverse effect on relationships with others, including our children," says Dr. Flack. "Taking time for things as simple as reading, playing, and singing with our children helps us bond with them, helps alleviate our stress, and improves their cognitive development."