We have always heard how important it is to read to children. It is fun for them, it helps develop their brain and it is a one of the best ways to have that “special time” with a child. But statistics and 15 different research studies continue to show that starting to read to children when they are babies actually gives them a head start on their development and education in school. Two thirds of children are behind when they start kindergarten. Statistics show that once a child leaves 3rd grade, if they are not up to speed with other kids, they don’t ever catch up. That is a sobering thought, especially for new parents. There are programs available to help children from 3 years old and up with their reading skills, but there is very little out there for children from birth to age 3. Many parents don’t understand the importance of reading to their child and especially to their babies. They may not have been read to as children or they may be overwhelmed with just keeping food on the table for their family.
The Reach Out and Read (ROR) program is a wonderful way to give parents and children the help they need to get started on the right path at a very early age by combining well-child doctor visits with education on the importance of reading. “Reach Out and Read physicians and nurses give young children new books and inspire families to read together, starting when children are babies. At each well-child checkup, medical providers teach parents how cuddling together and sharing books builds language and literacy skills that will help children be ready for school”. There are approximately 10 well child visits for children from 6 months to 5 years of age. Physicians involved in this program are trained in evaluating a child’s development and are able to be both a doctor and a teacher for patients. They also help parents understand where their children are developmentally. The ROR program helps parents to realize they are their child’s ”first teacher” by reading to them — for as little as 15 minutes a day. If families are not fluent in English, just looking at the pictures and telling their own story works just as well for child development. It is all about that one on one time parents are spending with their children, being present and loving and talking to them. As children develop, the chance to pick out their own book to read builds confidence and gives the child a sense of control.
There are 213 ROR clinics in Washington State, 15 on the Eastside. There was a need here in Kirkland for such a program and Family Doctor, Ginger Ruddy took the lead on getting things set up at Kirkland’s Pacific Medical Center Totem Lake (PacMed). Dr. Ruddy has been practicing medicine for 16 years and her specialty is family medicine. She saw a need and the Kiwanis Club of Kirkland was eager to improve literacy in the birth to 5 age group in the Kirkland area, so it was a good fit.
The cost of the Kirkland Reach out and Read program is about $500 a year. That will supply 10 age appropriate books per child for four Reach Out and Read Health Care Professionals at Pac Med in Kirkland. Doctors, nurses and medical personnel involved with ROR are all volunteers, so all monies donated to the program go directly to books for kids or for administrative costs at the state level.
A $1500 donation was given by the Kirkland Kiwanis Foundation to get things up and running for the Kirkland PacMed ROR program. In addition to paying for books, it also included funds for bookshelves and other startup supplies such as posters and informational handouts. This generous donation by Kirkland Kiwanis Foundation will keep our local Reach Out and Read branch in books for 3 years.
Most of us think of Kirkland as being an affluent community, but 35% of the children seen by Dr. Ruddy are from low income families. Many others are recently immigrated to the US and some don’t speak English. Parents bring their children to the clinic and in a short time, establish a trusting relationship with their doctor. Sometimes the clinic is the first place they feel safe in their new environment. Parents are willing to listen to what their doctors have say about learning and what role the parent takes in their child’s education. The clinic displays posters and handouts sharing the importance of reading and how it helps children develop. There are books in exam rooms for children to read while they wait. Gently used, donated books are available so older siblings may also be given a book to take home. There is a reading corner in the waiting room. All ROR well-child visits start with the doctor bringing an age appropriate book for their patient to take home. They will often bring two books into the appointment in case the child has one of the books at home. Children look forward to the doctor visits instead of dreading them. Dr. Ruddy loves it when children stop asking about shots on arrival and instead ask, “Do I get a book today?” She also added, “Vaccines are a means by which physicians save lives and it is a privilege to offer them. The Reach Out and Read Program is a different kind of privilege, because it allows us to change lives by giving parents the tools to help their children succeed.”
Ron Asher, ROR Program Specialist for Washington, says “Reading is good medicine and this program helps kids get the right dose”. Ron assists in getting ROR programs started statewide and is there for to help them be successful. He also emphasizes that this program helps to turn kids into life-long readers, better students and generally are better prepared for life.
ROR has been up and running nationally for 25 years. Medical schools are seeing the importance of reading that starts at a very young age and are offering certification for Reach Out and Read in their residency programs. If you would like more information about the program, have an interest if getting a program started or would like to make a donation, visit their website at www.reachoutandreadwa.org . Being part of an international organization whose mission is “serving the children of the world”; the Kiwanis Club of Kirkland couldn’t see any better way to support our community or our children then by helping kids get what they need to get started in life. If you would like to learn about Kiwanis, visit our website at www.kirkland.kiwanis.org