Came across a very interesting article in the Des Moines Register that I wanted to share with you. Have talked before about how important it is to read to your children. Let me know what you think.
Young patients at Blank Children’s Pediatric Clinic leave well-child exams with a prescription for reading, a condition providers hope lasts a lifetime.
The clinic was the first in Iowa and part of a growing number of medical offices that participate in Reach Out and Read Iowa, a program in which health care providers encourage early literacy by giving new books to patients from 6 months to 5 years old.
Iowa’s effort began in 2006 and has grown to 92 programs, serving more than 58,000 children. The program has been in place nationally for 25 years, with more than 5,000 providers participating in all 50 states.
The campaign got a boost recently when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement promoting early literacy as an essential component of primary care visits. The academy cites research showing that parents listen and children learn as a result of literacy promotion by providers. The move is part of a new partnership between the AAP, Too Small to Fail, Scholastic Inc. and Read Out and Read.
Dr. Amy Shriver, medical director for Reach Out and Read Iowa and a general pediatrician at Blank Children’s Pediatric Clinic, said that although the program is geared to encourage reading among high-risk families, every patient receives books regardless of income. All families need to understand the importance of reading aloud to their children every day.
“Reach Out and Read is so much more than what we thought at the start. We’re really seeing how important giving books is as a public health tool for kids,” she said.
Providers receive training to participate in the program. They give a new, developmentally-appropriate book to patients and provide guidance to parents about book sharing and interacting with their child. They also stress creating a literacy-rich environment, which they demonstrate by having books in the waiting room and patient rooms.
The program is a great gift to the child, parent and providers, Shriver explained. By handing a book to a child, providers can assess gross and fine motor skills, as well as the relational component between parent and caregiver as they interact with the book.
Families use it as an educational tool to increase their child’s cognitive skills and create a more nurturing interaction with their child. Children benefit because reading allows them to cuddle with a family member, with their brains growing in the process, Shriver said.
According to Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, research shows that the more words children hear, the more they learn. Yet children from low-income families have significantly fewer books than more affluent peers.
Estimates show that by age four, children in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than higher-income peers. The learning disadvantages continue into adulthood.
The Blank clinic sees several high-risk patients and serves one of the highest percentages of refugee and immigrant families in Des Moines. To serve families from other cultures, providers offer books in other languages and discuss the importance of talking, reading and singing to promote language development.
Because pediatricians see young patients so often in those early years, they have an opportunity to get the message across to parents, who also see them as authority figures, Shriver said.
“I think there’s a lot of strength and power in the trust you have in your pediatrician for good medical advice. When we see parents in the clinic, we provide an actual written prescription for reading,” she said. “It’s like medicine for your mind.”
The policy statement issued by the AAP reaffirms what the Iowa program has been doing all along.
“That’s so exciting for me as a Read Out and Read provider because now the AAP is really enforcing and recognizing the importance of early literacy promotion. It’s important to realize we’re not trying to teach kids to read early, but what we’re trying to do is teach families about the importance of reading and to teach kids to love reading,” Shriver said.
Molly Olinger Topf, coalition leader of Reach Out and Read Iowa, noted that the AAP statement makes the recommendation official.
Feedback has shown that for young rural Iowa families, the program is a great tool for them to connect with their child. But even middle class, college-educated parents have been surprised to learn the importance of reading at an early age.
If administered correctly, Reach Out and Read doesn’t extend the length of an appointment. After handing the book to a patient and seeing how the child interacts with it, providers can check several developmental milestones at once, including speech, vision and hearing, Olinger Topf said.
She also noted that in the age of technology, every parent needs to hear that good old-fashioned reading is the best way to expose children to vocabulary and strengthen cognitive ability.
“The book is our dialogic tool, our tool for dialogue,” she said.
Shriver also encourages parents to visit the library with their kids and use the children’s librarian as a resource. Nothing replaces the experience of pulling a book off the shelf and browsing its pages, she said.