UPenn program helps premature babies develop reading skills

Monday, December 7, 2015
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Parents are encouraged to read or talk to their babies continuously for at least 10 minutes during each visit.

WEST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- There are two major factors that pediatricians talk about.

Babies born premature or kids living in poverty are at a greater risk for being millions of words behind their peers before they even start school.

But now, there's a simple intervention that can help.

New mom Taj Holmes is reading to her twin boys Kaylo and Kyler. They were born early at just 28 weeks.

"It's been hard, real hard," she said.

Not only did the boys face multiple medical problems, but Dr. Laura Rubinos says babies born premature are at a greater risk for language delays and learning difficulties later in the life.

But she says reading to them every day from the very beginning can help lessen the gap.

That's why Dr. Rubinos and her colleagues started "Babies and Books" at Penn's neonatal intensive care unit.

Parents are encouraged to read or talk to their babies continuously for at least 10 minutes during each visit.

"There's been a lot of studies that suggest because the brain is still developing, that constant auditory stimulation can improve language outcomes," said Dr. Rubinos.

Mom and dad love the idea and say it empowered them knowing they could do something to make a difference.

"Reading to them, I know it will help them to succeed and we are going to read to them every night," said Holmes.

That's what pediatricians recommend. Dr. Rubinos says reading is a simple task that can have long-lasting effects.

The first 5 years are crucial, but for all parents she says it's never too early or too late to start.

For Kaylo and Kyler, they're getting stronger every day and their parents are hopeful for the future.

"To see them get bigger and get out of the hospital and just do well in life," said dad, Kevin Williams.

Each family also goes home with a special book. The books are donated by several local organizations.

As for the twins, Kyler was able to go home. Kaylo is still in the hospital but is growing and doing well.

Staff at Penn's NICU would like to acknowledge the following organizations who helped make "Babies and Books" possible through their generous book donations:

Rotary Club of Philadelphia

The Center for Literacy

Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Liberti Church

CHOP Division of Neonatology faculty and staff