Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman
The pandemic has affected so many things for our children, including their education. Despite incredible efforts by devoted teachers and school staff, progress in reading has suffered significantly, with many more students at risk of not learning to read than prior to the pandemic. Kids who do not learn to read in elementary school are at greater risk of dropping out, earning less, and getting in trouble with the law.
A valuable community resource for helping children become good readers may surprise you—it’s your child’s healthcare clinic. The national literacy program for children, Reach Out and Read, has been at Community Health of Central Washington for about 10 years and started at Kittitas Valley Healthcare pediatric and family medicine clinics this month. Reach Out and Read (ROR) was founded in 1989 by a group of pediatricians and educators. It promotes reading by giving out free books at every well child visit from age 6 months through 5 years, and is the only children’s literacy program endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The books chosen are age appropriate and culturally sensitive to be ideal for each child. At the well child check, the provider shows the book to the child, perhaps modeling for the parents how to engage with their child through reading, while encouraging the child to handle and explore the book. This is typically an extremely positive part of the visit for all!
The effects of reading together with kids early and consistently are impressive. This activity and the extra love and attention that go along with it help promote brain development, especially important in the first three years of life. Children who are read to tend to develop better recognition of letters and sounds, have a bigger vocabulary, and become better listeners. The connection between parent and child while reading is also reassuring and soothing.
Research has shown that kids who are part of Reach Out and Read show better language scores (both speaking and listening) and their language development continues to improve with ongoing involvement with the program. ROR parents are twice as likely to read to their kids at least 3 times a week, and report increased enjoyment with reading together.
Here are a few tips to best encourage reading in your home:
- Read together daily, especially at bedtime
- Encourage your child to hold the book and turn the pages
- You don’t have to read the words exactly, especially to young children; you can just talk about the pictures
- Encourage your child to point to things in the book and ask your child questions Simple books, with rhyming and repetition, are perfect for young kids
- Bilingual books and books about people from different cultures build empathy and understanding of others
- Be a good role model and regularly read yourself, ideally using traditional books as opposed to an electronic device
more about The contributor
Dr. Elise Herman
Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.