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Vickroy: Doctor’s orders — read to your baby

What to read

Here are just a few of the books on the recommended reading list for “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten”:

“Where’s My Teddy?” by Jez Alborough

“Freight Train” by Donald Crews

“Go Away, Big Green Monster” by Ed Emberley

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman

“Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman

“Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom” by Bill Martin

“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff

“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak

“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss

“The Napping House” by Audrey Wood

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Updated: August 12, 2014 6:13AM



Brian Yaro is only 2, but he already knows how to read Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

Well, he thinks he’s reading it, and that’s all that matters. Reading from memory is one of the many forms of early literacy.

“He loves coming here,” his mom, Amy Yaro, said, during a recent visit to the Palos Heights Public Library, where both Brian and his 1-year-old sister Kylie attend story time. “Afterward, he likes to run through the stacks looking for the books we’ve read or for books he knows. He’s proud when he knows the words.”

Yaro and the other moms and dads who already read to their tiny tots know that when it comes to giving children the best possible start in life, time is of the essence. The sooner you introduce a child to language, the better prepared he will be for school. But many other parents do not know this.

That’s why last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to make reading to babies doctor’s orders. The academy is asking its 62,000 member pediatricians across the country to give new parents a “prescription” for reading aloud to their infants.

Because most of a child’s brain growth occurs before age 3, the academy is encouraging doctors to help parents tap into their baby’s potential for learning by introducing them to books right away — even in utero.

In its policy statement, the academy stated, “Children who are read to during infancy and preschool years have better language skills when they start school and are more interested in reading.” In addition, it said, “Parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for a child’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development.”

Reading during early childhood can also close socioeconomic learning gaps, experts say.

The academy’s endorsement is affirmation to many who are already onboard the early reading train. Local libraries, including those in Crestwood, Palos Heights, Oak Lawn and Tinley Park, have been offering baby story time programs for years.

“Most people think you don’t have to start until age 3, but we know the earlier they start the better,” said Debbie Fisher, youth librarian at the Crestwood Public Library.

For more than three years, Kelli Mason and Julie Anderson have been reaching out to parents of newborns with the very same message.

Mason, literacy coach for Community High School District 218 in Oak Lawn, and Anderson, family resource specialist for District 130 in Blue Island, are among a group of volunteers who run Cradle to Classroom, a literacy outreach program aimed at getting parents to boost brain function in their infants as well as engaging them in the academic process early, well before grade school begins. They recently passed the 5,000 mark in terms of number of moms and dads who’ve participated in the program.

“Our purpose is to bridge the gap between low-income households, the have-nots, and the haves,” Mason said. “We’re reaching out to all families, particularly low-income, to make sure they understand that knowledge is there for everybody.”

Mason addresses parents-to-be through prenatal classes at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Anderson visits new parents at MetroSouth Hospital in Blue Island. Both women also reach out to new moms through local library programs and local WIC offices as well as to unwed moms in the Courage program at St. Germaine’s Church in Oak Lawn.

They talk about the merits of reading to babies. They also hand out children’s books, all of which have been acquired through grants and donations, some from local sources, such as the Blue Island Community Healthcare Foundation, as well as book publisher Scholastic.

“We’re really trying to get parents to appreciate the power they have,” Anderson said. “Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain development occurs in the first three years of life — way before they enter the school system.”

She said there tends to be less language used in poorer homes. Research, she said, shows that children from high-income families tend to be exposed to 30 million more words than children from low-income households.

The gap can follow a child through life. Anderson said, “We know that early language delay has the biggest influence on IQ and language development.”

Reading is a way to combat that.

Debbie Larsen is head of youth services at the Palos Heights Public Library. She runs Terrific Twos story time, which includes singing, rhyming, reading and bubble popping.

“It’s important for children to enjoy the experience,” she said. “It’s a bonding process. It gives kids a very positive feeling about reading.”

The library also hosts a baby story time, for infants up to 23 months. That session is more about modeling how to read to a child, how to make it pleasant so that the child wants to do it, she said.

The library is also participating in the national “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” campaign, in which parents are encouraged to read 1,000 titles, in 100-book increments, to their children. They log the accomplishments and the youngsters receive prizes along the way to reaching their goal.

Jackie Kowalczyk, of Palos Heights, said her daughter Corryn, 2, not only loves reading and singing and dancing, playing with books make her curious. “She asks a lot of why questions,” Kowalczyk said.

Cynthia Foulkes is a retired school librarian and teacher. She now brings her twin 2-year-old granddaughters, Camryn and Callie, to a variety of story time programs around the Southland.

“We’ve been to Chicago Ridge library and the Blue Island library,” Foulkes said. “It’s wonderful to read to children. It exposes them to language and rhythm. They learn ,to anticipate what’s coming next.

“These girls were preemies and look at how well they’re doing,” she said.

How to read to a baby

Kelli Mason said parents don’t have to wait until bedtime to read to their youngsters. “Read to them when they’re awake, alert and ready to play,” she said. “Teach them that reading is part of what we do all the time.”

She recommends reading to kids while waiting at the doctor’s office, in line at the grocery store or while eating breakfast.

“Let them play with the book, hold it, chew on it. Let them enjoy the kinesthetic part of reading,” she said.

All of that, she said, is early literacy.

And don’t forget to have fun with words, she said. Point out rhyming patterns and word families. Explain words and let the budding readers ask questions. For really young children, look for board books that have texture, such as fur or cloth.

“And if the session only lasts 90 seconds, that’s OK,” she said.



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