Reading, teaching|Exposing babies to books has benefits

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It’s never too early to begin reading to your child, experts say.

Children whose parents read to them become better readers and perform better in school, a study cited by the National Center for Education Statistics shows.

“The interests children find early in life can be powerful predictors of later academic success,” writes former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett in “The Educated Child: A Parent’s Guide.” “For example, teachers know that youngsters are more likely to become good readers if they develop a fondness for hearing stories read aloud during the preschool years.”

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Recognizing the importance of early reading experiences, the Vicksburg chapter of Rotary International has donated 125 Dr. Seuss books to River Region Medical Center for the Books For Babies program.

“This is the second year we’ve used contributions from Rotary to purchase books for new mothers at River Region,” said Lynn Foley, who made the presentation Thursday to River Region Health System CEO Vance Reynolds.

“This means a lot to the hospital,” Reynolds said. “Once again, we see the hospital can’t function without the community.”

Foley elicited smiles from Rotary members when she said that the head of River Region’s labor and delivery unit would also have been on hand to accept the donation if not busy at the hospital with “the fortunate delivery of twins” that morning.

“The Books for Babies initiative is necessary because it is an opportunity to further communication and bonding between parents and their children,” said Diane Gawronski, director of marketing and public relations for River Region. “As a Rotary member, I know that literacy is a key initiative of the organization.”

Foley said the purpose of the program, and Rotary’s desire to be involved, is to fight illiteracy in the community by encouraging mothers to begin reading to their children at birth. Foley worked with Lorelei Books owner Laura Weeks to purchase copies of four books by the famed children’s author Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss — “Dr. Seuss’ ABC,” “Hop on Pop,” “The Foot Book,” and “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!”

Known for their imaginative characters, colorful illustrations and rhyme and meter, Dr. Seuss books meet many of the early reading criteria literacy experts recommend — language patterns and rhythms, story components, and alphabet and simple word recognition. In addition, Geisel often incorporated a moral lesson into his stories, plus made them just plain fun.

Weeks said she was happy to be involved and be able to offer the books at cost to Rotary. “It’s an effort I could not be involved in. It’s exactly how we need to approach literacy — from childhood, from early childhood.”

Besides enhancing parent-child bonding and nurturing literacy, reading to infants helps with brain development, writes Kate Jack on the Web site of Scholastic, publisher of books for children as well as for teachers. “Numerous studies confirm that reading to infants not only boosts speech and language development, but overall intelligence as well,” Jack writes.

Bennett agrees. “A child’s brain structure continues to develop after birth. Cells are growing. Microscopic nerve connections are being formed. Some research suggests that early childhood experiences — the images a youngster sees, the language he hears, the books he’s exposed to — may affect the actual wiring of the brain.”

Gawronski said 2008 saw 1,033 babies born at River Region, with 1,022 in 2007. Hospital staff began handing the books out immediately to the new moms. “I’m confident that the new parents who receive these books will enjoy them with their children for many years to come.”

For more information, the American Academy of Pediatricians hosts a Web page devoted to early reading, with tips for parents of newborns, older infants, toddlers and young school-aged children at

“If you do nothing else with him, read to him,” Bennett advises.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at