Children who get their checkups at six clinics throughout York County leave with more than a lollipop or a sticker from the doctor – they also receive a free book and a reading lesson.
The Reach Out and Read program – a collaboration between a regional organization and local groups – provides children as young as six months with a book of their own at every wellness checkup. The idea is to introduce children to reading at an early age and promote communication between parents and physicians.
“We know that what happens in the first three years of life is the most important three years in your life for brain development,” said Callee Boulware, executive director of Reach Out and Read Carolinas. The regional organization coordinates with groups to implement the program locally.
“There’s such a gap between children of means and children who are not (of means),” said Teresa Creech, executive director of the Early Learning Partnership of York County. The partnership operates four centers throughout the county that provide learning resources and a rotating medical clinic for uninsured children.
ELP has worked with five private clinics throughout York to bring the reading program to medical offices for several years, but recently expanded the program to its own clinic at the beginning of the school year.
The clinic is open four days a week and will be stationed at the Family Resource Center off East Black Street in Rock Hill on Friday, which is also National Family Literacy Day.
Boulware said the participation of organizations such as ELP is especially vital to the mission of Reach Out and Read Carolinas because of the clinics’ low-income, underserved demographic.
Creech said ELP was able to expand the program to its rotating free clinic after it received a private grant from Wells Fargo for child literacy initiatives. The funds will go toward training, as well as recruiting volunteers who will read to children in waiting rooms.
The program leverages the credibility of doctors to encourage vocabulary building and bedtime reading at home. “It’s that prescription for reading,” said Creech. “They would take that advice to heart because it came from a doctor.”
For the doctors participating in the program, it’s also about opening a line of communication with parents and teaching them how to better keep track of their child’s progress.
“Any parent can feel overwhelmed, it’s just a good way to have any parent interact with their child,” said Dr. Martha Edwards, a pediatrician who works with ELP and treats each wellness visit as an opportunity to offer tips on bedtime routines, discipline, or other parenting skills.
“It’s a great segue way for us to help discuss development,” she added. Edwards said that by taking the time to read with each child, she can also assess how the child turns the pages of the book, holds the book, follows printed words on a page, or vocalizes sounds.
It often can lead to conversations with parents on whether or not their child is meeting developmental milestones or may be having other problems that a standard physical exam can miss, she said.
“It’s a way to lift up our community,” Creech said of the partnership. “Ready to read, healthy to learn.”
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062