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More than 90 percent of human brain development takes place in the first five years of a child's life. So it's important to start nourishing the brain right from birth. That's why public health nurses in California are using home visits to get parents reading to their children.
As a young mother, Blanca Castenada is determined to do everything she can to help her children, two-year-old Anthony and one-year-old Carlos. So she's taking part in the "Raising a Reader" program, which helps new parents get a jump start on reading to their children.
Blanca says, "My parents didn't read to me or spend time with me, reading books or things like that.. and I want that for my kids."
Home visitation nurse Monica Lanker brings new books and reading materials to the family on a regular basis, and encourages Blanca to read to her sons.
There's also a video that gives parents strategies on how to get their kids interested in books, how to make reading fun.
Lanker says she teaches new moms how to take good physical care of infants, so teaching them how to take care of their child's brain is a natural extension of her public health role.
"Because it helps with the development of the child's brain, particularly with speech and language," Lanker explains.
There's plenty of evidence the program is effective, particularly in reaching out to poor, low income, and immigrant families who may not have access to these kinds of materials.
Carol Welsh Gray, of the Center for Venture Philanthropy, says, "The children who have experienced Raising A Reader when they enter kindergarten are testing at more than twice the national norm for similar children in their knowledge of print concepts and story comprehension. And they love books, and that's the most important thing. We have given them a love of books that can last a lifetime."
The books and materials come in eight different languages. The program, which is paid for by the Center for Venture Philanthropy, doesn't just help children improve their language and vocabulary skills, it is also helping many parents improve theirs, too. And, they get to do that while spending time with their kids.