Funded by the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center, neonatologists, caring for babies in the NICU at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, conducted a study that would identify key risk factors, associated with reading difficulties some children face prior to elementary school. It is their claim that “literacy screening and interventions administered by a pediatrician can effectively help identify potential reading difficulties” and effectively improve early childhood development.
The study, conducted between 2018 and 2019, was recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
According to the study, “high-risk parents were five times more likely to read to their baby at home due to hospital intervention and that reading reduced any anxiety they felt during their child's stay.”
The hospital has since developed a new framework to effectively identify those risks associated with exposure to variables, relating to shared experiences and interventions taken during infancy, economic and environmental factors within the home, and special case scenarios that would depict exceptions to the rule.
Newborn Enoch Lober of Tennessee is a NICU patient at Cincinnati Children's. His parents are part of the NICU Bookworms program and enjoy reading to him.
Through this study, pediatricians would gain a better understanding of how these factors would directly influence a child’s brain, as it continues to be wired, and how early literacy programming would ultimately affect their ability to read, as they entered into Kindergarten.
Calling it an "Eco-bio-developmental" Model of Emergent Literacy, the Journal of JAMA Pediatrics, described it as a means of reinforcing the potential behind early literacy screening, prevention, and intervention during pediatric clinic visits during early childhood.
Pediatricians familiar with this model state that “This kind of model is advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help better understand and improve important social determinants of health.”
John Hutton, MD, Director of the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children's claims that "Emergent literacy is a developmental process beginning in infancy when the brain is rapidly developing. It involves skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are precursors to reading and writing."
He continues to explain, "Reading difficulties stem from deficits in any of these domains and take root early with far too many children beginning kindergarten unprepared to learn to read and at-risk of falling farther behind. Our research shows this is especially true for children from minority and impoverished backgrounds."
John Hutton, MD, director of the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children's.
"Importantly, our model anchors these factors to neurobiology, which reflects how a functional 'reading network' develops in a child's brain," states Hutton. "Through neuroimaging, especially MRI, our research has found that more stimulating reading activities in the home environment prior to kindergarten are related to better-developed brain structure and also function supporting literacy."
Separated into three main categories, the model takes a deep dive into the ecological, biological, and developmental effects of the child’s home environment, genetic traits inherited by family members, medical conditions such as potential dyslexia and premature birth, and developmental issues, relating to cognitive, social-emotional, and brain health functions and abilities.
The study also analyzed the impact reading, talking, teaching, and creative play had on how the children’s brains would develop.
David and Mackenzie enjoy reading to their baby boy while he recovers in the NICU at Cincinnati Children's.
The hospital encourages new parents to take advantage of several programs they have in place, empowering parents to adopt shared book reading experiences and early childhood literacy.
According to the hospital, one program, called NICU Bookworms “provides families with free books and encouragement to read to their baby during their stay in intensive care. They would also receive guidance on the benefits of shared book reading by trained NICU teams. This is an important resource, as families are often anxious about what they can do to help their child.”
They stress the importance of bonding through literacy and iterate that this is one way anxious parents can help their children get through such delicate times.