This summer, A.I. duPont Hospital for Children launched Baby Bookworms, a reading program for its most vulnerable patients.
The program coordinates volunteers to read books to the fragile babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) three times a day, seven days a week.
NICU nurse Sarah Bakke came up with the idea.
“Baby Bookworms is about language nutrition. Language nutrition is the idea that we give breast milk to nourish the body, but words nourish the brain,” Bakke said.
Research shows the quantity and quality of words spoken to children before the age of 3 gives them a huge academic advantage later on in life.
“During 0 and 18 months, that’s the period of the most rapid brain growth that occurs in life,” said Bakke, who also educates parents about the importance of language nutrition and encourages them to read to their babies as often as they can. “I think that that empowers them to really help play a role in that and feel like they’re making an impact and partnering with us and the volunteers.”
Jessica Coulter, 18, volunteers at the hospital and loves how the simple act of reading a nursery rhyme can make such a difference.
“Babies, even though they are very young, most people think that they don’t understand what I’m saying, but when you talk, and especially when you talk in melody, and you say repetition, all of that has a really big impact,” Coulter said. “When they’re in the NICU, they’re hearing monitors, and the same sounds and the same voices so when you get a chance to bring them out of that zone, they really, really take that in.”
Nicole Hall’s twins, Logan and Liam, are in the NICU. They were born 14 weeks premature. Hall likes how the program is focused on improving babies’ developmental potential.
“I think its really cool just because we can’t be here all the time so to know that they’re reading to them and kinda nourishing them in that way is really cool,” Hall said.
The Delaware chapter of the March of Dimes donated the books and the mobile cart that parents and volunteers can pull from.
Bakke is aware of other hospitals where staff read to babies in the NICU, but said the scale of the program, the education with the parents and having the volunteers come on a regular basis is unique.
She said the next chapter for Baby Bookworms is to expand the program to other parts of the hospital.