Dr. Miran Song's face lights up when she talks about how happy her patients - ages 6 months to 5 years old - are when she gives them a book. More than 2,500 young children each year get their well child visits at the Pediatric Clinic of Tuba City Regional Health Care Center. Each time they visit, they receive a book from the Reach Out and Read program.
About 80 percent of a child's brain develops by age three. Their early experiences lay the foundation for success in school and in life. Reading to young kids gives them the skills they will need to be good readers once they get to school. Research shows reading and comprehension levels in third and fourth grade correlate to general knowledge, attention and vocabulary at ages three and four.
While some parents may believe they need high-tech gadgets to hold their kids' attention, Song said she has seen young children pick books over their parents' cell phone. Reading, talking, singing and playing with kids gives them something crucial to their early learning: human interaction.
"It's nice to see parents and their children bonding," Song said. "Some kids will sit on their parent's lap or sit next to each other with their book."
Siblings tend to get in on the action too.
"Older brothers and sisters will hold the book and read together with their younger sibling," Song said.
For infants, reading and other interactions with adults help their brain learn the sounds needed to develop language. As they grow, reading helps babies understand that objects have names. As children get older, reading helps them to learn letters, sounds, and increased vocabulary. It also helps them develop critical thinking skills when asked what comes next in a story.
Dr. Song said reading effects a child's emotional development, too.
"It helps them understand their emotions and gives them a sense of personal self-worth," she said. "It opens a world of possibilities for them."
Families can help their child's language and early literacy by reading to kids five years old and younger just 15-30 minutes each day.
First Things First offers the following tips to make the most out of reading:
Read with your child, not to them: when you hold children and let them play with the pages while you read, they learn that reading can be fun;
Ask and encourage questions as you read: when you point to pictures in books and ask questions about them, you teach new words. You also help your child communicate with you;
Make reading playful: a book can be a child's favorite toy. Children love to look at and hold books. They also enjoy participating in telling the story.Through physical and verbal interaction you are helping your child build their language and social skills, and exercise their imagination.
Play games with words: sounds are the building blocks of words. Saying words that all start with the same sound help your child identify speech patterns. Rhymes help your child hear how sounds come together to form words. They also help your child learn the rules of language.
Reach Out and Read prepares young children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Reach Out and Read, partially paid for by First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council, is available at most health care centers on the Navajo Nation.