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Study: Pediatric Early Literacy Effort a Boon to English Learners

A program that uses pediatricians to "prescribe" reading aloud with children and provides developmentally appropriate books to families with young children is showing benefits for at-risk Latino children, including those whose parents do not speak English, a new study shows.

Specifically, poor Latino children who come from households where English is not the primary language and who participate in the early literacy program known as Reach Out and Read from six months of age, have average or above average literacy skills by the end of kindergarten, and good home literacy environments.

"Kindergarten Readiness and Performance of Latino Children Participating in Reach Out and Read" was recently published in the Journal of Community Medicine & Health Education. The paper was written by three scholars at the University of Utah.

The study looked at a sample of 40 low-income Latino immigrant mothers and their children. The authors reviewed medical records to determine how much exposure each mother and child had to the Reach Out and Read program, interviewed each mother to determine how often they were reading aloud with children and how many books they had in the home, assessed the children's emergent literacy skills in the summer before starting kindergarten, and evaluated teachers' reports on each child at the end of kindergarten.

Among the promising findings:

• Every child had at least two risk factors for poor performance in kindergarten, such as poverty, low maternal education, and little to no English spoken in the home. Yet, at the end of kindergarten, 60 percent were identified by their teachers as "intermediate and proficient" in reading, while 77 percent were rated by teachers as having literacy skills that were average, above average, or far above average when compared to all students of the same grade.

• Fifty-nine percent of mothers reported that their child had been read to the day before, identical to rates reported for high-income families in national surveys.

• In interviews the summer prior to starting kindergarten, 76 percent of the children could identify a favorite book by name, demonstrating print awareness, an important early literacy skill.

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