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Pediatricians Urged to Work With Parents in Boosting Early Literacy

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced Tuesday that it wants its doctors to encourage parents to read, talk, and sing to their children from infancy, and is partnering with organizations that will provide free books to low-income parents. 

The AAP, which represents 62,000 doctors, released its policy recommendation at the annual Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver on Tuesday. The move comes amid intense focus on the literacy gaps between children from low-income and affluent families. Research has shown that children from more well-off families are more likely to be read to daily and to have more language-rich interactions with adults. These children then start school more academically prepared than their peers from lower-income families, a gap that is nearly impossible to close. 

"The word gap leads to an achievement gap that can have lifelong consequences," said Hilary Rodham Clinton, who announced the new AAP policy during a speech outlining the efforts undertaken by the Too Small to Fail initiative she launched last year.

Children's doctors are uniquely situated to interrupt this negative cycle, the AAP policy statement says. "Research has revealed that parents listen and children learn as a result of literacy promotion by pediatricians, which provides a practical and evidence-based opportunity to support early brain development in primary care practice."

This is the first effort that the pediatrics group has made in the realm of early-childhood literacy. The organization has also recommended that parents keep television and other electronic media away from children younger than age 2.

The publisher Scholastic will be donating 500,000 books to medical providers who serve low-income families. Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit group that has worked with medical providers at 5,000 sites to promote literacy, will also serve as a distribution point for books and for pediatric tool kits that can help guide parents and doctors in promoting early reading.

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