Reach Out and Read Expands To Serve Infants From Birth to Six Months

July 07, 2015

Literacy News

Reach Out and Read doctors are starting to guide parents about the importance of talking, singing, reading and playing with their babies as early as the newborn checkup.

The organization has traditionally promoted the importance of reading aloud to children aged 6 months through 5 years. Reach Out and Read was founded in 1989 to take advantage of the unique opportunity that pediatricians have to affect the development, as well as the health, of the children they serve, especially those from low-income communities. A simple model was established of giving books to children and advice to families about the benefits of reading aloud together starting at the 6-month pediatric checkup. This reflected a tactical awareness that a 6-month old child can sit up on a parent's lap, and begin to grab and move the pages of a board book.

However, advances in our understanding of early childhood development over the last 25 years have shown us that it is essential to encourage parents to engage with their infants right from birth. The first six months of life is a period of rapid brain development that does not occur at any other time, and is a critical window when parental responsiveness can shape a child's development (for more details, please read our previous blog post). Accordingly, in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement recommending literacy promotion in primary care starting at birth.

In recognition of this, the Reach Out and Read leadership has announced a move to start the program earlier, such that it will now officially serve children from birth through 5 years.

"We believe that this will help us to do our job more effectively with families, bring us clearly into alignment with current scientific thought and best practices, and help us partner more effectively with other organizations in the field" explained Brian Gallagher, Executive Director of Reach Out and Read.

Reach Out and Read Medical Advisors have urged the 21,000 healthcare providers practicing the program to start recommending to parents the importance of talking, singing, reading and playing with their babies as early as the newborn visit. Materials, such as our popular Developmental Milestones chart, have been revised to reflect the change, and training will support the program expansion.

"We are considering carefully and seriously how best to get guidance to parents during those complicated, joyous, and sometimes overwhelming months when they are learning to care for their new babies." said Perri Klass, Reach Out and Read National Medical Director. "We want Reach Out and Read providers to use those formative early visits in the most helpful, practical, developmentally appropriate, supportive ways, helping parents develop the responsive, positive, language-rich interactions, which should surround babies from the very beginning."