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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Amy Gehrt: Read to your kids - they’ll thank you for it

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  • You might leave your child’s next pediatrician appointment with a prescription of a different sort — one encouraging you to read to your little one.
    A new policy announced by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Tuesday calls on parents to read aloud to their kids, starting from birth.
    It may seem like an odd thing for pediatricians to champion, but the reasoning is scientifically sound. According to the research, much of the brain’s development occurs in the first three years of a child’s life, and reading to kids during that time helps them develop stronger vocabularies and better cognitive development.
    “Reading with young children is a joyful way to build strong and healthy parent-child relationships and stimulate early language development,” Dr. Pamela High, a pediatrician and lead author of the AAP policy statement, told The Huffington Post. “The benefits are so compelling that encouraging reading at check-ups has become an essential part of care.”
    I was quite fortunate — I grew up in a household where reading was an everyday occurrence. I still remember the excitement of picking out the night’s book and snuggling up, often struggling to keep my eyes open until we reached the end, even if we’d read that same book countless times.
    For me, that excitement never faded, even when I was reading on my own. I can recall regularly going to the library, and always leaving with a big stack of books. And I remember the day I couldn’t find anything in the children’s section, and my mom told the librarians that even though I didn’t meet the adult-section age requirements, I was to be allowed to check out any book I’d like — just as her own mother had done for her during her childhood.
    I felt so grown-up and proud, and soon was working my way through the classics. Before I entered high school I’d read “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Wuthering Heights,” to name but a few. I can also remember the surprise on my English teacher’s face when she told us we’d be reading “The Scarlet Letter,” and asked if any of us had heard of it — and I replied that I’d already read it and could attest to how good it was.
    Did I always pick up on everything that was occurring in those novels when I was so young? Probably not. When I re-read “Pride and Prejudice” several years ago for a book club to which I belonged, I was surprised at some of the subtext that surely had gone over my head the first time.
    However, I definitely gleaned enough to understand the novels I read, and to appreciate why they were such beloved classics. And, without such a foundation, I very likely would have approached other treasured tomes with trepidation — and that may have colored my perception, as it did for some of my friends and classmates. But while they were bemoaning our first foray into Shakespeare, I was enthusiastically trying to parse the prose — and falling in love with the poetic language that even now inexorably draws me in, holding me spellbound.
    Page 2 of 2 - Like anyone, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read. When my honors English teacher told us we’d be reading the “Epic of Gilgamesh” — believed to be the oldest written text, and often called the world’s first great literature ­— I thought I was in for a real treat ... but instead I found it to be repetitive and boring. Other authors, such as Emerson and Thoreau, also failed to live up to my admittedly high expectations.
    Yet for every book I have read that didn’t resonate with me, for whatever reason, hundreds of others did — sometimes when I least expected it. I read a lot of crime novels from bestselling authors such as John Sandford, James Patterson and Richard North Patterson.
    When I began a book by the latter Patterson called “Conviction,” I never expected more than an entertaining read ... but it ended up changing my position on the death penalty.
    I believe that every book has something to offer its readers — an important life lesson, knowledge you wouldn’t otherwise have, a new word, a different perspective, even just a chance to escape reality.
    It doesn’t matter whether you read classics, bestsellers, sci-fi, cheesy romances or a mixture ... all have the ability to expand your mind and spark your imagination.
    A few may fail to hold your attention for long, and some may stay with you only until you start the next book. But others will have you so eager to find out what happens that you will suddenly look up and realize the sun is rising and you’ve been reading all night. The best will stay with you for a lifetime.
    Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, but national statistics show that fewer than half of parents with kids under the age of 5 read to them. Had my parents fallen into that category, I may never have discovered the joy of curling up with a good book. So, parents, I hope you’ll heed your pediatrician’s advice and start growing your own little bookworms. Someday your kids will thank you for it — and because you read to them, they won’t be struggling for the right words.
    Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com or at Twitter.com/AmyGehrt.
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