Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice.
This statement encourages parents and other caregivers to read out loud to their children every day, beginning in infancy. The statement’s lead author, Dr. Pamela High, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, RI and a professor at Brown University, said that the goal is to help parents “immunize their children against illiteracy.”
As someone who has spent many hours sitting on the floor reading aloud to groups of children and snuggled up on the coach reading to our grandchildren, I am delighted by this official pronouncement of the importance of this practice!
The opening statement in the abstract of this policy statement says, “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.”
That last phrase, “builds language, literacy and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime” (emphasis mine) struck a particular chord with me. If this is true for general language and literacy skill building, isn’t it also true for building the language and literacy of faith?
Isn’t this call for parents, grandparents and other caregivers to not just read aloud, but read age appropriate Bible stories and other faith-building stories aloud to the youngest children?
At Augsburg Fortress and sparkhouse, we pay a lot of attention to research regarding human development ages and stages as we create faith formation resources for the Church to make certain that they are appropriate for the children or youth for whom they are intended.
A couple of suggestions for families to use to help children begin to understand that they are baptized children of God include Welcome, Child of God baptismal board book or Walt Wangerin’s classic Water Come Down: The Day Your Were Baptized. Here is a link to a charming brief blog post from Pastor Annie Edison-Albright as she describes her son’s daily engagement with Water Come Down.
There are many children’s bibles available for storytelling time, too. My husband and I have given our Spark Story Bible to each of our three young grandchildren and they love being read to out of it and as they have grown older reading from it themselves to the younger ones. With 150 stories, gorgeous illustrations and Squiggles to find in each story for the youngest children’s entertainment, it is a rich resource.
Squiggles is this little green worm at the bottom center of this two page spread. Invite a 2 year old to find Squiggles in each story and you’ll be delighted by the giggles that will ensue!
Our newest story bible for children is the Whirl Story Bible. Each of the 120 beautifully illustrated Bible stories ties to the Revised Common Lectionary.
The ideal, of course, is for parents to take the time each day to read to their infants and small children. When a Bible story is read, the benefits compound by affirming the importance of our Christian faith in our daily lives. In addition, one of the spiritual practices of Christian life, daily Scripture reading, is a habit started young!
But, we also know that parents with young children lead particularly busy lives and may not make the time for this type of intentional faith formation as often as they’d like. This is where other family members and caregivers can assist. Recently, I came across research from Pew Social Trends stating that “In 2011, 7.7 children in the U.S.—one-in-ten—were living with a grandparent, and approximately 3 million of these children were also being cared for primarily by that grandparent.”
So, whether small children are living with a grandparent or are across the country, connected via Skype or Google Hangouts, daily Bible story reading can be made a priority by those grandparents for their grandchildren. The benefits for language development, literacy and relationship development have been affirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The benefits of faith formation will be an added life-long benefit.
Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO