ENRICH: Empowering Parents to Promote Childhood Language Development

A baby and a book. This is a powerful combination when a parent or family member brings the two together in an interactive way. In fact, reading to babies starting in the early days of life has been identified as a gateway to literacy, helping infants prepare to become tomorrow’s school children.

With this in mind, Nicklaus Children’s Health System in 2018 developed ENRICH (Engage, Nurture and Read to Infants and Children), a program designed to foster awareness among parents of hospitalized children and the broader community of the importance of reading to infants and young children.

“Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first three years of life,” said Dr. Saima Aftab, Director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and founder of the ENRICH program.  “Studies have shown that children who were read to beginning as babies were much more likely to succeed academically when they entered school. The ENRICH program is intended to positively impact little ones in our clinical units and the South Florida community we are proud to call home. Our goal is to help prepare the region’s children for literacy,” she said.

As part of ENRICH, Nicklaus nursing staff has been trained to encourage parents in reading to young children and offer age-appropriate children’s books in the units. In addition, hospital volunteers are trained and available to read to hospitalized children.

What’s more, each family of a newborn receiving care at Nicklaus Children’s is presented with the hospital’s newly developed “Baby’s First Library” kit. The kit includes several bilingual books for infants as well as a reading tip sheet for parents and a hand mirror so that readers can monitor a baby’s facial response when reading together. The attractively packaged first library kits were funded with support from the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara.

With eyes to the future, the hospital has also forged a collaboration with other community thought leaders who share in its passion to advance early learning. Collaborators include The Children’s Trust, the Early Learning Coalition and Books & Books. This group will work together to expand awareness regarding the importance of reading to babies and children throughout South Florida.

“It’s wonderful to see parents reading to their little ones in the hospital,” said Dr. Aftab. “This simple activity is great for bonding and for brain development, creating the foundation for brighter academic tomorrows for today’s littlest learners.”