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A book a day keeps the doctor away

A book a day keeps the doctor away

While US doctors aren't promising books as a replacement for apples or medicine, they are now pointing out the long term health benefits that are linked to preparing children for starting school.

In the June edition of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the way in which social policy in the US reflects the growing belief held by medical experts that preparing very young children to achieve academically also has longer term health outcomes.

"The simple reason is the same path will lead us to both goals," says Anne Lensen, a Plunket Clinical Advisor

"What children need for good health and development is very much the same as what they need to be well prepared on school entry," she says.

For nearly 100 years now, Plunket and New Zealand families and whanau have been working together to make sure children are healthy. Children reaching their learning potential has long been recognised as one of the countless benefits of good health.

According to Anne Lensen, World Literacy Day (subs Monday 8 September) is the perfect time to look at the positive relationship of health and learning.

"If parents focused on those things that will nurture their children's capacity to learn and to get along in a school setting, they will still be doing many of the same things the children need for good overall health.

"Some of these things include good nutrition and enough sleep, making sure they are not exposed to cigarette smoke or violence of any sort. And they need their well child checks to ensure that what is right for that particular child is happening as it should.

"But children also need verbal and mental stimulation and they need to know they are loved. This is vital for their emotional and mental health and, along with physical health, is the foundation that allows them to reach their individual potential both for learning and for getting along with others.

'With social and language skills anyone is better prepared to succeed in school and in life. This is as true for preschoolers negotiating their turn with the paint pot as it is for chief executive negotiating contracts. Knowing how to handle frustrations and how to get along with others impacts your success in life and your own feelings about yourself.

"Read to your children or tell them stories you make up yourself or with them. Celebrate their victories and successes, show you enjoy them and encourage them to explore and to safely expand their limits as they grow," says Anne Lensen.

She suggests talking to the librarians at public libraries and mobile libraries for help in choosing books that are appropriate for a child's level. Regularly swapping books with friends and asking relatives to give books as gifts can help make reading and learning a part of children's lives.

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