On a sunny July day, Maria Person and her daughters stopped by Dr. Tracey Henderson’s office at the Tupper Lake Health Center to demonstrate how the new Reach Out and Read program works. Four-year-old Annie, a little shy, dressed up for the occasion. Her sister, six-month-old Brier, was starting to cry. Dr. Henderson, a pediatrician, took it all in stride, first handing Annie a book about a mouse. Annie smiled as her eyes went from the pages to her mother’s eyes as Maria brought attention to the silly things the mouse was doing. Meanwhile, Brier was growing increasingly restless – until Dr. Henderson showed her a different book that grabbed her attention, noting that babies like to look at other babies, and black and white images are appropriate for infants’ stage of vision development.
Reach Out and Read partners with pediatricians across the country to provide new, free books to children birth to five as part of their well-child checkups. Research shows children from low-income homes are at higher risk of reading failure, and more than half of the families seen by Dr. Henderson fall into this risk category. Early literacy programs help bridge the achievement gap by promoting positive family reading experiences and habits – all while providing clinicians with new ways to interact with patients and families.
Dr. Henderson is Reach Out and Read’s Medical Champion for the Tupper Lake program and has seen how being handed a new book can have an immediate effect on a child, easing some discomfort and anxiety many children have in the doctor’s office. Receiving a brand new book makes children feel special and gives them something to look forward to when they come in for a checkup. Annie and baby Brier are just two of the more than 40 children Dr. Henderson has reached in the first four months of the program. Maria likes that the books are age appropriate and “baby proof,” which is especially important since Annie loves to read the new books to her baby sister. Maria said, “I started reading to my daughter when she was really young, but I never knew how much she loved the black and white books. I was amazed!”
Dr. Henderson says that Reach Out and Read fits right into the routine of a well-child visit, and helps her assess developmental milestones. She stresses that the program is especially important for families who may not have the “money, means, or time to get to the library.” Even if parents struggle with literacy themselves, it coaches them about the importance of reading to young children and how best to engage while reading to their little ones.
These interactions do more than develop language skills and good habits; they help develop a positive doctor-patient relationship. Kids aren’t the only ones who get anxious at the doctor’s office and a supportive relationship that makes caregiving a team effort can go a long way toward making parents more comfortable.
The Tupper Lake pilot program had a simple goal for the first year: get the program up and running, which, thanks to Dr. Henderson, has been achieved. The early success is clear through both data and testimonials. We are proud to partner with Dr. Henderson and Reach Out and Read through our Birth to Three Alliance and hope that demonstrated success can lead to program expansion in other branches of Adirondack Health and local practices.