The Times-Tribune

GIVE A GOOD BOOK

Health later in life linked with earlier education

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Reading a healthy habit for children.

First of two parts.

Arecent study found that reading proficienc­y at the end of third grade is a benchmark in a child’s educationa­l developmen­t and ultimately their health and wellness.

When parents think of their child’s health, they typically focus on things like a healthy diet and on safety measures, such as choosing the right car seats and bike helmets. We all tend to think good health is more dependent on what’s in the pantry than what is on the bookshelf. Mounting evidence tells us this thinking should change.

One of the healthiest things adults can do for children is to read aloud to them and encourage them to make regular reading a lifelong habit. In fact, a book is the best gift you can give a child you love this holiday season.

There is persuasive evidence linking higher education levels to better health, and even more startling data showing clear connection­s between early reading and academic achievemen­t. Here are some of the eye-popping conclusion­s from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

■ Obesity among boys and girls ages 2 to 19 decreased with increasing education of the head of household.

■ Students with higher grades are significan­tly less likely to have engaged in behaviors such as carrying a weapon, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, being sexually active, watching television three or more hours per day and being physically active less than 60 minutes a day.

■ And the truly terrifying finding: The gap in life expectancy at age 25 between those with less than a high school education and those with a bachelor’s degree or more is increasing. On average, 25-year-old men without a high school diploma have a life expectancy 9.3 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher; women without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 8.6 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are clear health benefits to be gained by getting as much education as possible, but how does reading a picture book to a toddler influence whether he or she goes to college? The answer is that academic achievemen­t is like a chain you begin to assemble at the very dawn of life. Talking and reading to babies and toddlers is one link; it steeps them in words and builds their vocabulary.

A rich early vocabulary prepares children for the next link, preschool and kindergart­en, where they begin to amass the functional tools of reading, like “phonemic awareness” and word recognitio­n. These tools help firstand second-grade readers gain fluency. By third grade, a vital link appears, one that children must successful­ly forge — otherwise all subsequent learning suffers.

What happens in third grade? Reading’s focus shifts. Children are no longer “learning to read,” they are reading to learn. Suddenly, success in other subjects increasing­ly relies on the student’s ability to comprehend the written word. This is a crucial transition, and multiple child-health studies confirm that third-grade students who are not reading at grade level are at risk of a particular­ly grim snowball effect: a failure to keep up

academical­ly, which accumulate­s exponentia­lly through the grades and ultimately “explains difference­s in graduation and college enrollment rates.”

This seems like a tremendous burden to place on an 8or 9-year-old child. Fortunatel­y, there are effective, proactive things parents, guardians or any concerned adult can do to help:

■ Talk constantly to babies and toddlers — their brains are making an astonishin­g 700 new neural connection­s every second. Immersing them in language gives them an edge in reading readiness.

■ Give books as gifts, and enrich those gifts even further by offering to read them aloud.

■ Encourage the children in your life to get a library card. It’s free, and librarians are an amazing resource, ready to help children discover the rich, imaginativ­e worlds that await them in books. Ask your librarian to recommend age-appropriat­e books.

■ Ask your doctor to screen for potential developmen­tal delays that could affect your child’s learning. There are a variety of local resources to aid parents of children with even minor developmen­tal delays. Addressing the problem early ensures the snowball effect does not begin gathering momentum.

■ Be sure your child has his or her annual vision exam.

■ Limit your child’s screen time. That means television and electronic devices.

■ Do not put a computer or television in a child’s bedroom. Instead, create a reading-friendly space in another room in your home. Keep age-appropriat­e books on shelves children can reach, and keep these shelves appealing and organized.

■ Volunteer to read at your local library.

■ Host a book drive in your workplace and donate the haul to a day-care center. ■ Volunteer to be a mentor. ■ Reach out to the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, which can connect you to a host of resources focused on helping every child to become a lifelong reader. NEXT MONDAY: How reading fosters health and longevity.

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 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE ?? B7 First lady Michelle Obama and Rico Rodriguez of the ABC sitcom “Modern Family” read a Christmas story to a group of children at the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December 2012 at President’s Park in Washington, D.C.
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE B7 First lady Michelle Obama and Rico Rodriguez of the ABC sitcom “Modern Family” read a Christmas story to a group of children at the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December 2012 at President’s Park in Washington, D.C.

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