A study out of Cincinnati Children's shows the combination of two early reading programs has a marked effect on students entering kindergarten.
More than 3,200 children from birth to age 5 received books and reading guidance over a three year period. The two programs are Reach Out and Read, offering books and guidance during well-visits, and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which mails a new book to a child once a month.
Children's began studying the programs in 2015 with the help of health clinics across Cincinnati. Students entering Cincinnati Public Schools were given the standardized kindergarten readiness assessment over the course of three years.
Participants showed a 15.4% increase in kindergarten readiness. The school district average increase was 3.8%.
"With this early study, we suggest that when combined and sustained, these two programs have the potential for effectively supporting the development of preliteracy skills of large populations of at-risk children, improving kindergarten readiness, and, ultimately, success in school and life," says Greg Szumlas, MD, of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's.
"I can't stress enough to parents the importance of reading with your child, starting at birth," Szumlas adds. "Just a few minutes a day, reading aloud, and interacting with your child over books can make a huge difference in helping them prepare and be ready for kindergarten."
Lisha Lungelo agrees. She's a parent and social worker in the Pediatric Primary Care Clinic at Children's. She enrolled her son when he was 13 months old.
"It's important because it helps the child be ready for school," she says, adding parents and guardians should start reading to kids as soon as they're born.
"It helps so much," she says. "By the time they get in school - to have that letter recognition and some word recognition, maybe not all but at least be able to point out different words that they recognize - you only get that when you start early with the reading process."
Her son is 7 now and shares his mother's passion for books. She remembers one day when he came home from school and she'd planned to read a new book they just received in the mail.
"Then he started reading to me and ... oh! ... I can't even tell you the excitement in hearing him read," she says with a huge smile. "It filled my heart with joy."
Szumlas says the study shows pediatric health care providers can play an important role in literacy development and argues literacy promotion should be a routine part of primary care.
The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.