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My local library encourages parents to read 1,000 books to their children by kindergarten. It sounds like a lot, but my son is only two and I am pretty sure I've already read Brown Bear, Brown Bear at least 1,000 times this week. We've been reading together since he was born, and, according to a new report, we're part of a growing trend. More parents than ever before are following the American Academy of Pediatrics' suggestion to start reading to kids from birth.
The sixth annual Kids & Family Reading Report by Scholastic surveyed 2,718 American parents in 2016 and found more than three-quarters of parents with children under five started reading aloud before their child was a year old, and about 40 percent started before their baby was three months old (up from 30 percent in 2014). That's great news, according to experts.
I felt silly reading to my son when he hardly knew who I was (let alone what a brown bear was) but I'm so glad his dad and I just kept reading through the early awkwardness. Doctors say as soon as babies begin opening their eyes they're more than ready for books.
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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading aloud to our little ones “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime."
Sometimes it can feel like story time itself lasts a lifetime. The Scholastic survey found two out of three parents with kids under five read more than one book each time they read aloud to their children. (I totally relate to this—as soon as my son learned the sign for “more" he would ask for another book as soon as the first ended, especially if we were reading at bedtime.)
The survey also noted that kids start choosing their own books at pretty early ages (this is why I had to hide Brown Bear, Brown Bear). Fifty-four percent of parents of kids two and under said their kids picked their own books, and and the majority of kids between three and five are choosing for themselves.
The Scholastic report follows research presented in 2017 that found reading books with mom during infancy is a good predictor of early-reading skills. The researchers monitored 250 mom and baby pairs for four years and found that kids who were read to as babies had better vocabularies later on, and that frequent, quality story time sessions during toddlerhood are a good predictor of whether a child will be writing their name by age four.
Presenting that research at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting back in May, lead author Carolyn Cates drove home the benefits of reading to tiny babies: “What they're learning when you read with them as infants still has an effect four years later when they're about to begin elementary school."
With more parents than ever before reading to the youngest children, the next crop of elementary schoolers may be the brightest yet. It seems like a lot of kids will hear 1,000 books before kindergarten.
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[This story was originally published in November 2017. It has since been updated.]