I recently had the privilege of speaking to more than a hundred medical professionals at the national conference of Reach Out and Read in Washington, D.C. about the importance of early literacy, an issue that Reach Out and Read and KinderCare share deep commitments.
Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based non-profit organization that promotes literacy and school readiness in the exam rooms of pediatricians around the country. They are also an important partner that KinderCare works with to place books in the hands of children in need through our national literacy program, Read. Share. Give.
Early childhood educators and pediatricians alike understand, probably better than anyone else, that a child’s earliest years, from 0 to 3, are the most critical time for language development. But unfortunately, many parents do not realize the critical importance of these early years and may miss the opportunity to support their child’s early literacy and language development.
We know through research that 70 percent of brain development happens in the first three years of a child’s life, and those earliest experiences impact a child’s ability to think, to speak, to learn and most importantly to establish relationships. We also know that after three years of age, it is increasingly difficult to make up for differences in children’s language ability.
Unfortunately, we’re not investing in children at the right time. Public expenditures in education and health services for our youngest children are considerably less than what is spent on individuals later in life. But if we could do it right in the beginning, we would make a much bigger difference.
As we and partners like Reach Out and Read understand, parents can’t do it alone. Parents are the first and foremost teachers of children, but they need a partnership with early childhood educators, local communities and health care professionals. The work of Reach Out and Read supports this critical period by partnering with doctors to “prescribe” books to children during their well-child visits and exams and encouraging families to read. Having books accessible and available to children is so critical and important, which is why Reach Out and Read’s efforts to educate parents and “prescribe” books to children every time they visit the doctor between six months of age and five years is an unbelievable resource for parents.
Children are probably our most overlooked population, and the real prescription for success is investing in our youngest citizens. Learning to read and communicate is the best foundation they can have, and early childhood educators and pediatricians are in a unique position to help build this foundation, whether in the preschool classroom or the exam room.
We are truly honored to partner with Reach Out and Read and the thousands of pediatricians across the country on this incredible journey. There is probably no effort that is closer to the heart of what we do in providing books for children. The connection between what we do and Reach Out and Read is so powerful and we’re all working toward the same end to make our children more literate and better leaders in our future.