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Building brains: UW researchers say early steps to improve children’s lives will help them succeed in school and life.

PHOTO BY COBURN DUKEHART — WISCONSIN CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

Hannah Tunney, 2, holds a book while getting a check-up from nurse practitioner Francesca Vash at Group Health Cooperative health care center in Madison. GHC participates in the national Reach Out and Read program, which distributes books to children up to age 5 at each regular check-up. The program is designed to encourage families to develop good reading habits.


 

Five-year-old Naja Tunney’s home is filled with books. Sometimes she will pull them from a bookshelf to read during meals. At bedtime, Naja reads to her 2-year-old sister, Hannah.
“We have books anywhere you sit in the living room,” said their mother, Cheryl Tunney, who curls up with her girls on an oversized green chair to read stories.
Naja and Hannah are beneficiaries of Reach Out and Read, an early intervention literacy program that collaborates with medical care providers to provide free books when families come in for checkups.
 

“I learn things that my brain will always know,” Naja said during an appointment at Group Health Cooperative’s Capitol Clinic in Madison.

 

Naja’s and Hannah’s brains are in critical phases of development, and they are being stimulated by a home environment that prioritizes education.

 

But children who do not have this same experience early in life — especially those growing up in poverty — could experience delayed brain development that significantly harms their educational progress, according to recent research by psychology professor Seth Pollak and economist Barbara Wolfe at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

Their study is part of a growing body of socioeconomic brain research documenting what Joan Luby, a child psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis, calls “poverty’s most insidious damage” — that poor children are up against their own biological development.

 

Along with graduate students Nicole Hair and Jamie Hanson, Pollak and Wolfe found that poverty can cause structural changes in areas of the brain associated with school readiness skills.

 

These parts of the brain are susceptible to circumstances often present in poor households, including stress, unstable housing, nutritional deficiencies, low academic stimulation and irregular access to health care.

To isolate the effects of poverty from other factors, the study included mostly children of educated mothers — 85 percent reported at least some college-level education and 22 percent had some graduate-level education. Families with factors that could negatively affect brain development, such as a risky pregnancy or a history of psychiatric problems, were excluded.  Continue reading.....

 


 

2 much fun on my book shopping video found great deals at @Books4School @pernilleripp thx for sharing the resource pic.twitter.com/pd0LdXJJhz

— Colleen Bentfield (@colbent606) April 4, 2016 

 


 

 

The Elephant in the Clinic

Early Literacy and Family Well-Being

by Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD and Amy Shriver, MD

Twitter: @AspenAscend and @ReachOutandRead

Promoting early literacy directly with families in primary-care clinic settings is a concept that stretches back over twenty years. One of the best-studied and widespread interventions is Reach Out and Read. Well-documented with a strong evidence base, Reach Out and Read has enjoyed popularity among many front-line providers offering preventive care for children. However, the "book giveaway" aspect has been so striking that many have not recognized that much more is possible through this approach.

With proper training and careful implementation, the model offers a number of different strengths: a path to proactively address school readiness, conduct developmental surveillance, make relational health assessments, build parental capacities and capabilities, help buffer toxic stress in families, integrate public health principles into clinical care, and use an inexpensive, scalable, evidence-based model.

This report, written with a powerful mix of storytelling, scientific evidence, and data, highlights the types of interventions we need in today¹s busy environment to work meaningfully with children and their parents.

Click to download report here.

(For high resolution PDF, click here.)