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Thoughtful Parenting: Reading to children builds their brains

Ellen Kendall
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Dolly Parton is known as a superstar the world over. Yet, ask any young toddler or preschooler how they know her, and they will tell you, “She’s the book lady!” That’s because Dolly sends a book in the mail addressed to each child from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. To date, more than 1.6 million age-appropriate free books are being sent monthly to children, ages birth to 5, across the U.S. and four other countries.

In 1995 as a tribute to her father, who was illiterate, Dolly began her mission to improve the literacy of children in her birthplace of Sevier County, Tennessee. Twenty-six years later and with an enrollment of almost 2 million children worldwide, Dolly’s impact on children is significant.

Dr. John Hutton, renowned pediatrician and researcher, offers compelling evidence how reading aloud to children builds children’s brains. MRI studies show how reading to children, often during their first 5 years, results in stronger activity in the areas of the brain that support language, imagination and meaning, as well as an improved attention span. Further, research shows that routinely reading aloud to children significantly and positively impacts children’s school readiness. Professionals sum up the importance of reading to a child as “the most important gift a parent can give.”



Becky Hammond, a local retired elementary teacher and reading specialist explains, “As a parent, we all want our kids to begin their first days in school ready and able to read and learn. The best way to assure this is to read aloud to your child at least 15 minutes (per) day five days a week. Breaking up this 15 minutes into five minutes, three times a day is even more effective. Not only will this improve your child’s readiness for school but will also improve their ability to succeed all through school and beyond.”

In Routt County, more than 500 children currently receive free books each month from the Imagination Library. Locally, the program is supported by Women United, an affiliate of Routt County United Way, which seeks to enroll more children in Routt County so they are able to build their own library of books. As Dolly proclaims, “There can’t be too many books in the hands of too many children!”

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



Ellen Kendall is the co-chair of Women United’s literacy committee, Routt County United Way.


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