New parents spend a lot of time in waiting rooms with their kids before doctor appointments. Did you know there's an organization working with medical providers to make the most of that time to promote early childhood literacy? Reach Out And Read is a national non-profit organization that gives new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.
Founded in 1989 with its first program at Boston City Hospital, the Reach Out And Read model has spread to all 50 states, at almost 1,500 sites, distributing 1.6 million books per year. The program shows parents how children can be really engaged with books and makes sure each child leaves a doctors appointment with an age appropriate book to help build up their libraries at home.
Ernestine Willis MD PHD, is the project director for Reach Out And Read Milwaukee, working with Milwaukee area clinics since 1998. She says the bonding that families have after engaging in these experiences is critical to early childhood literacy. "Making sure that children have access to good environments that will stimulate their brain synapsis and development is what we owe every child from birth on," says Willis. "You must instill the 5 R's….reading, rhyming, reward, relationship and routine. So trying to make reading a part of every parents routine is important."
"I love seeing the happy smiles of children when they receive a book," says Mary White, coordinator with Reach Out And Read (Medical College of WI). White visits waiting rooms around the city, introducing parents to the program. On any given day, she can be found reading to kids in doctors waiting rooms, encouraging parents to do the same at home or out in the community handing out books to kids, maybe even dressed as "Clifford, The Big Red Dog". White says that she can see first hand how children's vocabulary increases and even their health can be affected by reading books.
Even an extra moment at the grocery store can be used to read to/with your kids. Think about that next time you are walking through the cereal aisle or waiting in a checkout lane. Take advantage of these little moments to help your kids learn to love to read. As my mom always says, a reader is a leader.