Dr. John Hutton, pediatrician with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

HUNTINGTON — The benefits of reading to children at home are well-founded and have been promoted for decades, but emerging research indicates it should begin much earlier in a child’s life than it usually does.

That’s what Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, presented Friday morning at Marshall University, speaking to academics and providers across the continuum of child welfare, both educational and medical.

Hutton, who oversees the hospital’s Literacy Discovery Center in promoting and researching childhood literacy, said pediatricians, educators and especially families should promote literacy in a child’s life as soon as possible, as early as following birth.

This contrasts with the prior standard thought to assess a child’s literacy in the third grade or as early as kindergarten.

Instead, Hutton advocates having children prepared for literacy benchmarks prior to preschool, noting how fast the human brain develops in the first five years of life.

“It’s truly something that’s critical to help stimulate kids to develop so that they are healthy and ready to read when they get to school,” Hutton said prior to his presentation.

Though not often considered in childhood education, pediatricians have a role to play in literacy development as well, he added — assessing a child’s development through regular visits before they reach school age.

“Reading is something that pediatricians should be talking about early, truly from when kids are born, to really start that dialogue and reinforce that reading is more than just a nice thing to do if there’s time,” Hutton said.

While creating a positive home environment in those early years may be difficult in West Virginia, where nearly 7,000 children are in the state’s foster care system, Hutton noted that reading to children at home is a cost-effective way to boost a child’s cognitive growth. That reinforces the mission of programs like the state’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read, which provide free material and education to families across West Virginia.

Hutton’s visit was hosted by Marshall’s June Harless Center for Rural Education Research and Development, which addresses areas of need through education in West Virginia’s rural communities.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.

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