In a bustling waiting room, Daria, a young mother, finds a space, pulls a rug from her bag and lays it on the floor. She gathers together a group of young children, sits them down around her, pulls out a brightly colored book, and begins to read to them.
What is remarkable about this scene is that just a few months ago, Daria, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic with basic English and rudimentary reading skills, was reluctant to read to her own young son, let alone to a group of children surrounded by a crowd of parents.
Fortunately, she has been given help with reading aloud through the Reach Out and Read program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Daria’s doctor has explained to her, and thousands of other new parents, that cuddling and reading to infants, toddlers and preschoolers is one of the best ways of helping them achieve their full potential.
It is widely accepted that reading aloud to young children is the single most effective activity that will prepare them for success at school. At a time when the achievement gap is wider than ever, and when more than a third of American children start school without the skills necessary for learning, it is disheartening that less than half of the families in the U.S. read together every day. This is often because parents do not understand its importance or because they do not have the confidence to read aloud.
This is where Reach Out and Read makes a difference. More than 21,000 Reach Out and Read medical providers nationwide talk with parents at each pediatric checkup from infancy through five years about the benefits of reading aloud to their children. More importantly, they model how to engage young children with books at each developmental stage.
Claudia Aristy, Reach Out and Read Program Director at Bellevue tells me, “Many of the parents we serve did not grow up with books in the house and so are not comfortable reading aloud. We give them the confidence to read together with their family – And for parents who do not read well, we explain that the most important part of reading aloud is connecting with their children. We show them how to talk about the pictures and create the stories with their own words.
It’s so wonderful to see the transformation from a parent who says, ‘I can’t do this, I’m stupid!’ to one who can enjoy the bonds created through shared time together and who knows that they are giving their child a chance for success at school.”
There are many families who do not have the resources for books at home, and so each child in the Reach Out and Read program takes home a new “doctor-recommended” children’s book. In many cases this is the first book that a family has ever owned and our doctors tell us how the children’s eyes light up at this gift. For those parents whose first language is not English, we offer books in different languages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized the important role that pediatric providers play in encouraging parents and caregivers to read aloud to their children and the program has one of the strongest records of research support of any primary care intervention. Parents who have participated in the Reach Out and Read program are four times more likely to read to their children and include more children’s books in their home, and children served by the program are three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests.
Aristy tells me that the impact of the Reach Out and Read program is clear. In a community where the percentage of pupils graduating from high school is typically low, she sees the children that participated in Reach Out and Read growing up and going on to college.
On February 24th, Reach Out and Read will be joining a global celebration on World Read Aloud Day. Bellevue is just one of more than 5,500 Reach Out and Read medical clinics across the U.S. that serve 4.5 million children each year. We are asking all those who believe in the value of reading aloud to young children to take part in our campaign and help more parents like Daria give their children a chance for success. Daria says,
“Reach Out and Read has helped me to give my son a chance to do well at school – I’m so proud to be able to do that for him.”