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Close the Reading Gap: Partner With a Pediatrician

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We have an opportunity to build a partnership that should not be missed.  Pediatricians, according to Mokoto Rich's NY Times article are being asked to advocate for, support, and encourage reading aloud to young children.

With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child's life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group (the American Academy of Pediatrics), which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor.

This Alliance Offers Real Possibility
We have long been challenged by students who, at age 5, arrive in our schools from homes in which reading is doesn't happen. It isn't valued or understood to be important for the children. The habit of reading is not developed, and children are not conditioned to love stories. Those students enter our schools with a gap already in place.  Those whose vocabularies have developed, whose left to right, top to bottom orientation is set, and whose page turning skill is established are set apart from those who do not enter with these skills. These children have established pre-learning behaviors and know the value of story, know how to sit and listen to a story being read, have developed the accompanying vocabularies and are ready to learn in a different way than their peers who have not had the same experience.

A Door Is Opening 
The pediatricians are ready to help. 62,000 of them belong to this organization that has decided to encourage reading to young children. This is an incredible opportunity not to be missed. Increasingly, children need their health care providers and educators to be working together. More and more children present physical, mental and emotional needs that are best addressed when this partnership works well.  So let's become the initiators.  Might we reach out to them to offer partnership and create relationships that will benefit parents and their children?  

Children visit pediatricians in private offices and in clinics. Most are in locations within our communities and school districts.  The opportunity to open a dialogue and develop a relationship with these pediatricians exists now.  Summer is a good time to reach out. If each district reached out to the pediatric offices and clinics that exist within their district's boundaries, wonderful things might happen for everyone, children in your own and neighboring districts as well.

It may seem counter intuitive to address the problem of the gaps that exist between the 5 year olds who enter schools by aligning with physicians.  We are much more attuned to intervene once the gap is presented.  We have specialists who help teachers enrich opportunities for these children with lagging skill sets and needs that are different from their peers.  Our attention and energy is focused on problems and our creativity is called to fix them.  When a student enters kindergarten with an expressive vocabulary of about 1000 words, the teacher recognizes the expressive limitations this child has and sets a goal to increase the vocabulary.  She invites others to be part of the solution, perhaps inviting in a speech therapist. With luck and a lot of hard work, the student's vocabulary grows. But, at the same time, the student who entered kindergarten with a 2,500 word vocabulary has continued to grow and the gap remains. 

Close The Gap Throught Partnerships
The Center for Education at Rice University reported from their study of vocabulary acquisition in children across income groups.

The finding that children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words heard by children from higher-income families has significant implications in the long run. When extrapolated to the words heard by a child within the first four years of their life these results reveal a 30 million word difference. That is, a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family. This gap does nothing but grow as the years progress, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds.

So what would it be like if school districts reached out to the pediatricians and helped them enlist participation of the parents who come to their offices? Perhaps we might supply their offices with information from our schools or from organizations like zerotothree.org? What would it be like if we did more than "encourage" the parents to read aloud to their children?  What if we supported them by opening our libraries to the parents of these little ones and posted the 12 month elementary library schedule in the doctors' offices? What if we had a session in which we trained the nurses and the staff in the pediatricians' offices? We could share how to encourage the parents to read to their children and why it is so important.  What if we developed a welcoming relationship with these parents and established a positive relationship between home and school while the children were preschoolers? Might we close the gap?  Might we reduce the number of children who enter our school lacking the pre-reading behaviors that set their classmates on the road to success while they lag behind?  We think it is worth the investment to find out. 

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