Prescription to Read

Doctors and a nonprofit team up to increase childhood literacy.

At Daniel’s 18-month pediatric checkup, there were concerns about his language development. Daniel reportedly spoke only three phrases— “mama,” “Sponge Bob” and “all rise”— far below the ten to 20 words doctors look for at his age. The doctor treating Daniel gave his grandmother the book Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? (Random House Books for Young Readers). The doctor said to share the book with her grandson, to have fun with it and read it before each nap and at bedtime.

Six months later at his following checkup, Daniel was right on target for his age in terms of reading. The change was due, in part, to the book and intervention provided by Daniel’s doctor.

Across the country, nurse practitioners and pediatricians like Daniel’s doctor help thousands of families with children as young as 6 months old acquire language skills and prepare for success in school through a powerful program called Reach Out and Read.

Reach Out and Read takes advantage of the existing healthcare system to show parents that reading aloud to their kids every day goes a long way in preparing children for kindergarten. When a parent brings in a child for a checkup at a clinic with a Reach Out and Read program, the parent receives advice on reading and the child gets a new age-appropriate book. Volunteers read to children in the waiting rooms, modeling reading aloud strategies for parents. And whenever possible, gently used books are available for older siblings to read while waiting with their families.

David and Marilyn Sanchez experienced Reach Out and Read when they took their sons Gabriel and Jaden to see Dr. Faye Kokotos at the pediatric clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “When Dr. Kokotos gave us a book at our first doctor’s appointment, the kids thought they had to give it back,” Marilyn recalls. Now, she says, “My kids actually look forward to going to the doctor because they know they’re getting a book.” Their father, David, says he can see the difference made by regular reading at home. “Gabriel reads books and breaks down words that most kids his age wouldn’t be able to touch.”

The partnership with doctors separates Reach Out and Read from other early literacy programs. For many families living at or near the poverty level, the only regular contact they may have with a child development professional is when they visit a hospital or a health clinic. Children generally see their doctors for checkups about ten times from 6 months through 5 years of age. Reach Out and Read makes use of those visits to ensure that children are exposed to books during the critical early years. The program has also been proven effective in studies that show that children who experience Reach Out and Read are much more likely to be read to at home and are more advanced in language development than their counterparts.

Reach Out and Read of Greater New York prepares America’s youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors who prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Reach Out and Read of Greater New York also hosts many events throughout the year to raise awareness about the importance of reading aloud, including during Early Literacy Awareness Week, which takes place the second week of August. This year, the week was marked by a huge book distribution of 10,000+ books to Reach Out and Read programs and children’s book readings at health centers around the region.

One easy way to become involved with Reach Out and Read is by collecting new and gently used books at schools, places of worship, businesses or even at children’s birthday parties. The books can be donated to a local Reach Out and Read program, which are always in need of materials.

There are an abundance of Reach Out and Read of Greater New York programs that operate in hospitals and community-based clinics throughout New York City. In 2010, doctors gave 415,000 developmentally and age-appropriate books to more than 272,000 children in the greater New York region. Books are made available in different languages, including Spanish, Bengali and Mandarin, to reflect the diversity of the area.

If you are interested in Reach Out and Read for your child, visit www.reachoutandreadnyc.org or call (646)237-0103 to find a program near you.