What memories come to mind for you when answering the question, “What was your favorite book to read when you were a child?” The goal is for reading to be a natural part of everyone’s childhood and education experience. Reading proficiency is a requirement and a necessity for any type of professional career, especially in healthcare. But sadly, it is not the norm for many Rhode Island children. In fact, in 2017, only 40% of third graders in our state are reading at grade level. That percentage drops dangerously low for students with disabilities (10%), Hispanic and Latino students (24%), low-income students (25%), and African American students (26%). These statistics are unacceptable, and that is why Governor Raimondo has charged the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet (of which I am an active member) with the task that by 2025, we will double the percentage of third-graders who are reading at grade level.
Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a crucial indicator in a child’s development. Students who are competent readers are more likely to perform well in other subjects, and students who do not read at grade level in third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Education is one of the primary social determinants of health that will impact young Rhode Islanders for the rest of their lives.
The importance of reading does not begin when a child starts school. Beginning at birth, parents need to talk, read, and sing to their children as much as possible—in whatever language is commonly spoken in the home. This is the critical message we need to share repeatedly with the parents and families that we encounter in whatever setting we work. Talking, reading, and singing regularly, from day one, stimulates optimal levels of brain development and helps to assure that children enter kindergarten ready to learn. We need to encourage all parents and families that talking, reading, and singing to children can take place anytime and anywhere, not just stories before bedtime.
- When you are in the car, sing along with songs on the radio or read street signs and billboard advertising.
- Read food labels while you are making breakfast or lunch.
- While you are doing errands, talk to your children about what you are thinking about doing next on your to-do list, and why you have those errands to run.
Assuring children are reading at grade level benefits us all. We want all children to have equal access and opportunities to become productive members of society. We want all children to succeed in whatever profession they choose. The impact on society as a whole cannot be under-estimated. For every student who does not complete high school, it costs about $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. Plus we know that a child who does not graduate from high school is at risk of living at least seven years less than someone who graduates from college.
The Children’s Cabinet has joined Rhode Island KIDSCOUNT and United Way in their Rhode Island Reads initiative. I invite all healthcare professionals to support and join our efforts to help all children become proficient readers:
- Beginning at birth, urge parents and families to talk, read, and sing to their children as much as possible—in whatever language is commonly spoken in the home.
- Remind parents of the importance of keeping up with regular doctor’s visits for babies and toddlers, especially the ones that include important developmental screenings.
- Refer children who may have developmental challenges to the resources and services they need.
- Participate in Reach Out and Read Rhode Island, a program that incorporates books into pediatric care and encourages families to read aloud together. Learn more about the Rhode Island chapter at www.rorri.org
- Download and distribute parent tip sheets from www.readingrockets.org. The fact sheets are available in 11 languages and for seven life stages – infants, toddlers, pre-K, kindergarten, grade one, grade two, and grade three.
- Check out the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet website, www.kids.ri.gov to get the Talk, Read, and Listen Campaign in English and Spanish.
- Learn about and support Rhode Island Reads at www.rireads.org.
Thank you for everything you do, and will continue to do to help Rhode Island children read and succeed.