In today’s technology driven world, children are exposed to extraordinary amounts of screen time starting at a very early age. Time spent watching television, playing on smart phones or tablets, comes at the expense of other parent child interactive activities such as; reading and sharing of books, and creative play.
Low adult literacy levels globally have important health, economic and social consequences. This problem originates in childhood where a significant number of children lack the basic language skills needed to learn to read when entering kindergarten. This can lead to learning difficulties and school failure. Reading readiness in children is directly related to early and consistent exposure to oral language and vocabulary. Reading aloud stimulates both spoken and written language. Sounds in spoken language promote phonological awareness and letter recognition and print promotes written language.
Children learn a range of skills from the basics of holding a book and turning the pages, to complex skills such as interactive reading where they can answer questions about a story.
Medical studies have shown that reading aloud to infants and children influences the developing brain. Children are born with all their nerve cells “neurons” already formed. Early experiences lead to the formation of connections “synapses” between these nerve cells. These connections influence development. Connections that are stimulated are strengthened whereas connections that are not used are lost.
This explains why at birth children’s brains are sensitive to all language. Newborns and even fetuses recognize their mother’s voice. Before six months, infants can discriminate not only voice, but sounds of almost any language. These abilities decrease over time and this explains why it is much easier to acquire a second language in the early years compared to adolescence.
Reading aloud to infants and children stimulates language development even before a child can talk. It promotes a love of books, improves school readiness, and is a fun activity for a parent and child.
Dr. Majisu is an Associate Pediatrician at Footprints Paediatrics in Runda, Nairobi. She has BA cum laude from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania and a medical degree from the University of Chicago. Dr. Majisu completed a residency in Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital (Harvard Medical School) and Boston Medical Center (Boston University School of Medicine). She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is a board certified pediatrician. Her interests include developmental pediatrics and adolescent medicine. She has served as the medical director for the Reach Out and Read Organization for the state of New Jersey.