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Pediatricians play a big role in a child’s health. But not in the way you might think.
Treating flu and other illnesses is only 10% of what makes a person healthy. The rest is genetics (20%), environment (20%), and daily behaviors (50%).
That’s why it’s so important for pediatricians to engage parents and kids to improve daily behaviors—like reading to young children and playing outside—especially among Latinos who have limited safe places to play and early educational gaps.
Two amazing reading programs are doing just that.
Reach Out and Read
Latinos often enter kindergarten developmentally behind their non-Latino peers, Salud America! research shows.
For example, as early as age four, children in low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than than their middle and high income peers. The vast majority of Latino fourth-graders score below proficient reading level.
So, in 1989, pediatricians and early childhood educators teamed to start “Reach Out and Read.”
Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit that trains and supports healthcare providers to give developmentally appropriate books to kids ages 6 months to 5 years. They also are trained to give advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.
They handed out more than 1,000 books the first year.
Even better, a 1991 study found that the program led to a four-fold increase in reading aloud at home.
In 1998, Reach Out and Read had set up 556 programs in 47 states and handed out nearly 800,000 books. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) officially endorsed the program, too.
In 2007, Reach Out and Read grew to 3,714 programs and handed out more than 5.3 million books to 3.3 million children. The program also launched Leyendo Juntos (Reading Together) to provide Spanish-language literacy materials for healthcare providers to share with parents, and Spanish and bilingual books for children and families.
Today, Reach Out and Read has more than 5,000 programs and reaches more than 4 million children, mostly Spanish speakers.
In Texas (39% Latino), 895 pediatric providers at 280 pediatric clinics promote early literacy with parents and prescribe more than 400,000 books annually.
Preschoolers served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-program peers on vocabulary tests, which can help close the word gap and the gap on school readiness.
Books Build Connections
A new game-changer arrived in 2014. The AAP began promoting early literacy as an essential component of primary care visits, via the Too Small to Fail collaborative partnership.
In 2015, the collaborative created the Books Build Connections Toolkit.
The toolkit offers easy-to-use, mobile-friendly tip sheets and other practical resources for pediatricians, as well as guidance for families on the importance of talking, reading, and singing with their children.
Reach Out and Read and Books Build Connections can help pediatricians better understand the health and education disparities that Latino families face.
These programs can also help pediatricians and families identify books that are developmentally and culturally appropriate.
Additionally, Reach Out and Read hosted several focus groups to develop Spanish-language advice about the importance of reading aloud. The favorite messages were about love and affection: “el amor por los libros empieza en los brazos de los padres,” (the love of books begins in the parents’ arms). Read to your baby: “Es una muestra de amor!” (It’s a sign of love).
“The love of reading does begin in the parents’ arms, and it is a sign of love to read to your baby,” Dr. Perri Klass wrote recently in the New York Times.
It is never too early to read with your baby and every pediatrician can promote early literacy.