Reading to children from infancy improves literacy when they reach school, so many area pediatricians participate in Reach Out and Read Colorado as part of their patient care.
“It’s very practical and concrete,” said Dr. Pakhi Chaudhuri, owner of Pediatric Associates of Durango. “Literacy is part of wellness. It’s a tangible good I can give to my families.”
Chaudhuri has participated in Reach Out and Read Colorado since 2006, “prescribing” an age-appropriate book at each wellness visit starting at 6 months and continuing until kids reach their fifth birthday.
“Sometimes parents will say this is the first book their child has gotten, and sometimes parents will say they have a lot of books and go to the library all the time,” she said. “But the parents seem as excited as the kids a lot of the time.”
Chaudhuri has been an excellent ambassador for the program, said Mary Vozar, Southwest regional coordinator for Reach Out and Read Colorado. Other clinics involved in the program include Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, Mercy Family Medicine and the nurse-family partnership through the San Juan Basin Health Department. Almost 770 children receive books in La Plata County each year, and all told, the four sites prescribe almost 5,700 books yearly.
On Thursday, Chaudhuri prescribed the book Animals to 6-month-old Mason Romero, the son of Mellissa and Walter Romero.
“For beginning the process, the baby will stick the book in his month,” the doctor said with a laugh. “That’s absolutely normal for that stage of development.”
Babies seem to particularly like books that have other babies’ faces in them, she said.
“Parents will say, ‘she loves reading,’” Chaudhuri said. “There are lots of anecdotes of how popular the books are.”
The program works, Vozar said, because the book and the suggestion to read come from a respected person in the family’s life.
“Pediatricians are seeing kids who don’t even go to school until kindergarten,” she said. “They are able to impact the group that most needs it so the children don’t end up so far behind. Reading becomes just a natural part of having fun and paying attention to your kids.”
One point is key, Vozar said.
“We don’t want to do this to encourage children to read early; this is setting up preliteracy skills,” she said. “Children need to see parents modeling reading, having books in the home, then their children are much more likely to be readers. It isn’t just a coincidence. It holds true across the board.”
Even parents who are not fluid readers can do it, Vozar said.
“They can make up a story, it doesn’t have to be read verbatim,” she said. “Don’t worry about it, have fun with it. It shouldn’t be a punishment, it should be a treat.”
In addition to the new book given to the patient, any siblings who come along to the visit will be treated to a gently used book of their own.
“When one kid is getting a book, you always want the other one to get one, too,” Vozar said. Reach Out and Read Colorado collects and gives out almost 60,000 gently used books annually across the state.
Parents are encouraged to read to their children at least 20 minutes each day, and research has shown that parents who take the doctor’s suggestions and participate in the program read to their children more frequently.
The program also has learned that parents need some say in which books go home with them. A pediatric office in Alamosa found Spanish-speaking parents were leaving books in Spanish behind because they wanted their children to learn English, Vozar said. But her counterpart in the Denver Metro area has books available in 22 languages, because other immigrant parents may want their children to learn to read in the family’s mother tongue as well as English.
Whatever language they’re in, by the time a child involved in Reach Out and Read Colorado reaches the age of 5, he will have accumulated a beginning library of 10 books, Vozar said.
“What matters the most is the one-on-one time, when the parent can’t be looking at their phone, that’s what a child really wants, and that’s with parents, siblings or any adult who spends time with them,” Vozar said. “Bedtime routines tend to be a fight, so adding reading as part of the bedtime routine makes it delightful, instead of drama and trauma every night.” firstname.lastname@example.org