Pediatricians play a vital role in school readiness

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Guest post by Madeleine Blancher, MD, FAAP, Alabama Chapter-American Academy of Pediatrics Early Childhood Advocate

Too many U.S. children start kindergarten without adequate social-emotional and behavior skills critical to school success, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report in the August 2019 issue of Pediatrics. "School Readiness," published online July 22, which highlights rapidly expanding research that shows how these gaps can be eased or eliminated.  

School readiness is an important achievement for all children. The Alabama State Department of Early Childhood Education is committed to reaching this goal by instituting First Class Pre-K, a quality early childhood education program. Partners from across the state are also working hand in hand through the Young Child Wellness Council and Help Me Grow, a program that connects parents to services they need to help their children achieve optimal development.  If children are ready to learn by kindergarten, the community benefits as well as the individual child.

The new report points to the importance and value of pediatricians in working with families to promote school readiness.  Pediatricians are prevention experts, actively employing their knowledge and skills to help children reach their full potential.  This is true for all aspects of a child’s life, including being ready to learn at school.

Present for much of a child’s life, pediatricians see children frequently at well-child check-ups and it is during these encounters that they can help families understand child development, both physically and emotionally so that they can parent better, which will help their child learn.  They can then provide the caregiver with what they need to help the child fulfill their potential by:

1) Strengthening the relationship between the child and caregiver.  When caregivers understand the child’s emotional needs and can meet those needs, their relationship grows to be more positive.  And this helps children learn.

2) Empowering the caregivers to increase the child’s language development by just talking to them.
Reach Out and Read-Alabama is an important program in Alabama that uses the credibility and expertise of pediatricians to help parents and other caregivers read more to their children.  It also introduces books to families who may not have the means to buy them.

3) Identifying situations or conditions that may adversely affect the ability to learn, such as maternal depression, substance abuse, neglect, inadequate housing or food, and autism.  Sending these families for appropriate interventions increases the child’s chances of overcoming the stress and being able to learn.

4) Helping families with positive parenting discipline techniques.  Corporal punishment and harsh consequences can affect the ability to learn in a negative way.

In Alabama, pediatricians work with our partners on a variety of initiatives to bridge gaps between health and learning, including Help Me Grow, Project LAUNCH and the Alabama Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.