Parents should read aloud to infants every day, pediatricians say

Updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014

Story highlights

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines on early literacy

Doctors should encourage parents to read out loud to infants and children, group says

Research: Low-income children hear fewer words than kids from higher-income families

President Barack Obama touted importance of reading out loud in new video

Editor’s Note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) —  

It’s hard to keep up with so many statistics about modern parenting, but here’s one that floored me when I heard it a few years ago: By 4, children living in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than children in higher income households, according to researchers.

Thirty million!

That is horrendous, but it gets worse: Hearing fewer words leads to learning fewer words, which means children start kindergarten with smaller vocabularies and a so-called “word gap.” Often, they can’t catch up when it comes to academic readiness and long-term achievement, studies have found.

READ: The ‘word gap’ in America’s schools

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines that encourage doctors to talk to parents not just about nutrition and illnesses but about the importance of reading out loud, singing and talking during an infant’s first days.

“Fewer than half of children younger than 5 years old are read to daily in our country,” the group’s president, James M. Perrin, said in a statement. “The benefits are so compelling that encouraging reading at young children’s check-ups has become an essential component of our care.”

Pediatricians see 16 million children 5 and younger every year in the United States, said Patti Miller, co-director of Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, which is focused on helping parents close the “word gap” and improve the lives of children.

“So getting this word out through pediatricians and having them recommend to parents and support reading out loud to their children starting in infancy is so amazing and critically important,” Miller said.

My husband and I read aloud to our girls, 6 and 8, every day from the minute they were born, and we still do it during breakfast or before bedtime. Their love of reading shows us they have certainly benefited, and it truly pains me to think about their peers who might have missed out before enrolling in elementary school.

READ: How to keep kids reading through the summer

President Barack Obama, in a video released by the White House on Wednesday, saluted the move by the doctor’s group in connection with Too Small to Fail to help “bridge the word gap’” and increase children’s chances of success later in life.

“We know that … if a black or Latino child isn’t ready for kindergarten, they’re half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills,” Obama said.

“By giving more of our kids access to high-quality preschool and other early learning programs – and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed – we can give those kids a better shot at the career they’re capable of, and the life that will make us all better off.”

The key is getting the message to parents who too often don’t realize the importance of reading aloud, talking and singing in the early years, Miller said.