Reach Out and Read Wisconsin welcomes national medical director Perri Klass, MD

Reach Out and Read national medical director Perri Klass, MD, recently visited Madison, Wisconsin to give a presentation to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin supporters and stakeholders. During this talk at the Madison Central Library, Dr. Klass emphasized the importance of using books to promote healthy brain development in young children. One of the ways reading aloud supports brain development is through the parent-child relationship. “If we want to promote healthy child development in the early years, then we have to promote that parent-child relationship,” said Dr. Klass.

Books aid in the development of the parent-child relationship because they spark back-and-forth conversations. These conversational turns are what form connections in babies’ brains. Even young babies who are not themselves talking yet, show signs of engagement when these back-and-forth interactions are happening. Examples of this include, smiling at a book or the parent, looking at the pictures, reaching out to grab the book, trying to turn pages, cooing or babbling along with the story, or even trying to put the book in their mouth.

When parents read aloud they are not only helping foster brain development but development in all kinds of areas, like math, language, vocabulary, socio-emotional, school readiness and attachment.

Dr. Perri Klass presents at Madison Public Library about the importance of books and reading aloud for healthy child development
Dr. Perri Klass shares the importance of books and reading aloud to an audience of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin supporters and stakeholders.

Screen time

Dr. Klass also shared her thoughts about screen time and e-readers. She recommended physical books for newborns and children younger than age 2. Physical books allow babies to touch, feel, learn how to turn pages and put books in their mouths – all of which are appropriate developmental milestones for young children. Screens and enhanced e-books (stories that make sounds when tapped or have animations) can be distracting for young babies. New research shows that when e-readers are used, the number of conversational turns and back-and-forth interactions between parents and children decrease. Dr. Klass recently wrote about this new research in her weekly New York Times column.

When kids are older, using electronic reading devices can help them gain access to a wide range of information. However, it is still important for parents to provide supervision and make time for reading physical books aloud together.  

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin would like to thank Dr. Perri Klass for sharing her time and expertise. Also, thank you to the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters and the Madison Public Library for co-presenting this event. To learn more about Reach Out and Read Wisconsin and how to support us our work, please visit our website.

Every parent is their child’s first and best teacher

As an early literacy librarian, I see 50-100 parents and young children at my birth to 2-year-old storytime every Monday morning. Some parents come to get out of the house, socialize with other grown-ups, or give their child a chance to socialize with other babies their age. Some parents might know that storytime is a great place for their child to learn early literacy skills while others come simply because their child enjoys the books, songs and rhymes.

Many parents look to me as one of their child’s first teachers, but a child’s first and most important teacher is their parent.

parents reading to their child

Some parents don’t realize this or don’t feel confident in their ability to be a teacher. Teaching your child early literacy skills isn’t as daunting as it may sound. Storytimes are the perfect opportunity for librarians to model simple strategies that parents can use to help their child develop early literacy skills. We use strategies based on the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative, which includes:

1. Talking: Talking is important because language is the foundational skill that leads to academic and life success. Children with larger vocabularies do better in school. The best way for kids to learn new words is by including them in every day conversations. This is one of the easiest strategies. You simply talk to your child. Encouraging babies to babble, practicing nursery rhymes and asking your child open-ended questions are great ways to focus on this strategy.

2. Writing: Writing is important because it is directly related to reading skills and helps improve fine motor skills. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that your baby sit down and write the next great American novel. Strong fine motor skills support the development of future writing skills. Grabbing toys, stacking blocks and playing with Play-Doh are all great ways to work on writing skills.

3. Reading: Reading is important because so many of our daily activities require the ability to read. Some parents think that their baby is too young to be read to, but this is not the case. You can start reading to your child starting at birth. At first babies will seem to play with books more than look at them, but that is perfectly fine. This will allow them to get comfortable with books and learn skills such as turning pages. It’s important for parents to make reading part of their daily routine so their child can continue to improve their literacy skills and develop a love of reading.

4. Playing: Playing is important because it helps children develop fine and gross motor skills, imagination, and creativity. Children can discover so much about the world around themselves simply by playing and exploring. Babies can start playing during tummy time by placing toys in front of them to look at and reach for. As children get older they learn to play with others and to use their imagination by playing pretend.

5. Singing: Singing is important because it helps break words down into syllables that are easier for babies to understand and remember. Many parents are intimidated by singing because they feel silly or think they have a bad voice. Luckily babies don’t care what your voice sounds like; they just like hearing singing. You can sing lullabies, kid’s songs (If You’re Happy and You Know It, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, ABC’s etc.), your favorite songs from the radio, or even make up songs. Listening to music in the car or around the house is another way for children to learn new words and sounds.  

It is important that parents feel empowered in this role as their child’s first and best teacher. Early literacy librarians and Reach Out and Read medical providers want parents to know they already have the power to make a difference in their child’s life. We are here to provide extra support and guidance to assist parents as they help their children achieve their full potential.