By: Heather Lesage-Horton, MD

I have a treatment I recommend for every patient. It’s a daily dose and only takes 15 minutes: read to your child.

Did you know that only eight percent of parents read to their children starting at birth?

Introducing babies to books at a young age stimulates early brain development, forms strong vocabulary skills, and enhances recognition of the written word. In fact, studies looking at how active the brain is while a child is being read to reveal deep learning activity.  The first five years of a child’s life are crucial in determining educational and future career success.  While physical well-being is indeed important, a child’s long term health will ultimately be determined by his or her education.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading to a child prompts their brain to develop narrative understanding, which is the process of comprehending the story being told and properly processing and storing that information.  Moreover, by the age of two, children who have been read to will have significantly higher language development skills than those who have not been read to frequently (or at all).

That is why our Just So Pediatrics practice has partnered with the Reach Out and Read (ROaR) program.  Founded through Boston Medical Center in 1989, the program distributes almost 7 million books annually and has over 5,800 program partners nationwide. An evidence-based intervention for physicians in early child care, ROaR collaborates with pediatric practices to provide age-appropriate books for young patients and encourages parents to read to their children.

The program asks pediatric providers to give books to patients at more than 10 wellness visits between infancy through their start of school, encouraging the family to interact and read aloud with the child daily.

It’s a simple and quick addition to our patient appointments with lasting effects.  With over 1/3 of children entering kindergarten without basic language skills, this program provides the solution to the lack of early literacy.  The results are astounding.  Fourteen separate studies show that this model achieves its goals as children in the ROaR program have larger vocabulary, higher comprehension levels, and they enter school with a literacy level  six months ahead of their non-participating peers.

During routine visits, I have a unique opportunity to emphasize the importance of regular reading as a developmental tool, critical to the whole health of the child.  Our patients come away from wellness visits with a brand new book of their own, and when parents follow through with making reading time a priority at home, children develop the language and literacy skills needed to succeed in school. By giving our patients age-appropriate books, we foster a sense of accomplishment and pride as they develop new skills and incorporate a love of reading into the daily rhythm of family life.

Heather Lesage-Horton, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at Just So Pediatrics, a department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. Located at 19 Belmont Avenue, Brattleboro, VT, Just So Pediatrics provides care for infants, children, and adolescents. The practice is now accepting new patients, both weekend and evening hours are available.  For more information or to schedule a visit, call 802-251-8626 or visit