“While I was pregnant with my son Fritz, I read aloud to him. Books like Grimms’ Fairytales and whatever I was reading for my class.” Dr. Marela Mancenido Bolanos, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas, believes that reading to her child prepared him for school and developed his love for books. Last summer, during the strict lockdowns due to COVID-19, then ten year old Fritz finished reading Norse Mythology.
The first 1000 days of a child’s life begin from conception to the second birthday and is a period that has a significant impact on a child’s development. Eighty percent of a child’s brain develops from birth until age three.
In December 2018, child rights advocates celebrated the passage of Republic Act 11148 or the First 1000 Days Law. According to the Department of Health, 4.2 million Filipino children are stunted and stunting affect children’s cognitive and intellectual capabilities. But early stimulation including early literacy can help improve brain and child development together with proper nutrition and other health protection measures.
Ensuring that children get proper nutrition is a challenge for poor families. That’s why advocates of early literacy like Dr. Carmen Ramos-Bonoan emphasize that while food and nutrition impact child development, stimulation activities like talking, reading, rhyming, singing and playing with a child from birth will build strong parent-child relationships. It will also foster early language skills, promote cognitive and social-emotional development as well as motivate a child’s interest to learn.
According to Dr. Bonoan, the first 1000 days is the window of opportunity when the interactive Influence of genes and experiences shape the architecture of the developing brain. “It is the most rapid period of brain growth when the sensory pathways for vision and hearing first develop, followed by early language skills and the higher cognitive functions.” Dr. Bonoan is a pediatrician and Fellow Emeritus of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is also National Director of Reach Out and Read Philippines which promotes early literacy in pediatric care services.
The American Academy of Pediatrics ( AAP), an organization of over 60,000 pediatricians in the United States and other countries, including the Philippines, promotes early literacy development for children beginning in infancy. Doctors and health providers integrate literacy promotion and emphasize the importance of reading aloud to children including providing developmentally and culturally appropriate books during health care visits that the child takes home and keeps. Literacy promotion in pediatric practice is an intervention started by two pediatricians and an early childhood educator from Boston General Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) in 1989 called Reach Out and Read (ROR). The ROR model of early literacy promotion is not just encouraging reading aloud to babies but includes giving books to mothers. ROR found out that a mother provided with a book during her visit is six times more likely to read to her child than the one who did not have a book. ROR is the only national pediatric literacy model endorsed by the AAP.
“In a poor Filipino household, a mom would always choose food for the family over books for her child. That’s why we hope that our Local Government Units will expand their maternal and child health services through the integration and promotion of early literacy to support parent-child relationships.” Dr. Marilen Danguilan, Executive Director of the Philippine Center for Population and Development. Danguilan also said that reading is also good for the pregnant or nursing mother as it also reduces her stress aggravated by the hormonal imbalance she is experiencing due to pregnancy and childbirth.