Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wash. Scientists Cheer Docs' Push To Read To Kids Starting At Birth — Or Earlier

Scott MacLeod Liddle
Pediatricians will start urging parents to start reading their infants as soon as they're born.

The nation’s largest association of pediatricians is recommending parents read to their childrenstarting at birth. Research by Seattle-area scientists suggests kids can indeed benefit from hearing lots of language right from day one – or even earlier,  even though most kids don’t start talking until they’re at least a year old.

Sarah Roseberry Lytle, education and outreach director for the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, said her lab has found spoken communications enrich a baby’s developing brain right from the beginning.

“Even before children are actually speaking, when children are listening to other people speak to them and when they're hearing language, their speaking area of the brain is already lighting up," she said.

The push by the pediatricians, along with the Clinton Global Initiative, Scholastic, Inc. and others, is partly aimed at bridging disparities between rich and poor children.

“There are documented brain differences between children whose parents are in the higher socioeconomic level and babies who are in lower socioeconomic level already by about nine months of age,” said Christine Moon, a developmental psychologist at Pacific Lutheran University. “ One of the things that might be different is the amount of back-and-forth social interaction.”

Moon and her UW counterparts have even found a fetus in its third trimester can hear and discern parts of words. So, could it be that birth isn’t soon enough to read to your kids?

“We would say that it’s never too early to start,” said Lytle.

She did not say you have to read to your fetus, but it’s clear the groundwork for literacy starts even before day one.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.