Reach Out And Read
Celebrating its 25th year anniversary, Reach Out and Read is a unique national literacy program that was started in 1989 by Boston City Hospital, now Boston Medical Center. The evidence-based nonprofit organization works to promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric rooms nationwide.
Reach Out and Read builds on the trusting relationship between parents and medical providers to stimulate critical, early reading skills in children, starting at 6 months of age. At each doctor’s visit, a child between the ages of 6 months and 5 years receives a developmentally and culturally appropriate book. Providers can use the book as a developmental surveillance; making sure the child is on track. To make the experience interactive for the child, support staff can talk to the child about the book, asking them to point to certain objects on the page or point out what they see.
This program provides books to children while medical providers advise their parents to read aloud to them for at least 20 minutes every day. Parents are encouraged to make different voices and let the child turn the page as they read so that children can develop positive associations with books and reading.
The books also serve as a great tool to help parents create routines for children around bedtime, naps, and traveling. Beyond reading, medical providers encourage parents to do other activities such as sing, rhyme and talk to their child to help with the development of vocabulary and language.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has always endorsed the Reach Out and Read model but it wasn’t until June of this year that the AAP made a policy statement, promoting early literacy as an essential part of primary care visits.
“For a long time, the focus of this program was to provide children with school readiness and help them to succeed once they entered into kindergarten,” said Judith Forman, Public Awareness Manager at Reach Out and Read. “Over the past few years, our focus has shifted from not only school readiness but to the importance of early brain development. Stressing that the most crucial time for the development of brain circuits is during a child’s first 3 years of life.”
Since 1989, Reach Out and Read has always had a strong presence in Massachusetts. Today the program is in 295 clinical locations with over 200,000 children participating in Reach Out and Read annually. Within the past year, Reach Out and Read has begun to implement a new program in Massachusetts to provide books for the Pediatric NICU units in hospitals.
“We are very excited to begin putting books into the NICU units and follow up clinics,” said Alison Corning-Clarke, Massachusetts Program Director for Reach Out and Read. “The books are a way for parents to bond and communicate with their children. They can read to them in their private rooms to increase the amount of language that the child hears, hopefully helping them with speech later in life.”
Over the years, Reach Out and Read has been recognized for their outstanding achievements in early literacy. In 2013, the Library of Congress recognized Reach Out and Read with the prestigious David M. Rubenstein Prize. Continuing to grow, the Reach Out and Read program is now in all 50 states with nearly 5,000 programs. The program serves more than 4 million children annually - one-third of whom are children living in poverty. Through partnerships with Clinton Global Initiative, AAP and Scholastic books, they distribute 6.5 million books per year.
The Reach out and Read program works. Research studies have shown that its children are scoring 3 to 6 months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read classmates on vocabulary tests.