Reach Out and Read Carolinas: Books are Part of a Healthy Diet

First-year pediatric resident, Kelsey McDill loved to read as a child. She remembers spending many hours picking out books at her local library, “Reading was an opportunity for me to expand my imagination and explore new places,” shared Kelsey. “I had so many favorites; some of my earliest memories were of Good Night Moon and Give a Mouse a Cookie, and I am still quite a Harry Potter fan.”

Kelsey now has the opportunity to share her love of reading with her young patients at Palmetto Children’s Hospital thanks to a unique partnership with Reach Out and Read Carolinas. Through this program, every time she sees a child from birth to 5 years of age for a well check-up, Kelsey offers the family advice and training about the importance of reading aloud at home. She also gives the child a brand-new, developmentally appropriate book.

Reach Out and Read, founded in Boston in 1989, actively serves families in communities across the country through grassroots volunteers in the medical community.  The Carolinas’ affiliate is at the forefront of working with existing healthcare systems, public and private partnerships and other high quality programs. In South Carolina the program currently supports 115 early childhood medical homes and impacts more than 125,000 children annually. By the end of this summer, Reach Out and Read Carolinas providers will expand their reach to more than 140,000 each year.

The intervention, delivers significant outcomes at the very low cost of $15 per child per year. A 2015 Cost Benefit Analysis conducted by the Institute for Child Success found that Reach Out and Read has significant long-term outcomes – families served by the program read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills, better prepared to achieve their potential. The benefits of Reach Out and Read far outweigh the costs!

This evidence-based intervention ensures that early literacy is an integral part of primary healthcare for children growing up in low-income communities. The special relationship, which forms between families and medical providers, like Kelsey, is the foundation for Reach Out and Read. During well-child visits, the provider evaluates developmental milestones and then explains how parents can positively impact their child’s early language and reading skills.

Kelsey first learned about Reach Out and Read during medical school in Columbia, Missouri. As you might imagine she was delighted to learn that Palmetto Children’s Hospital included the program as part of her residency training. She began participating from her earliest days.  By embedding Reach Out and Read into residency training, early literacy awareness and education are becoming a standard part of pediatric primary care. To further support this approach, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2014 stating that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

“Training our new doctors in this way is so valuable,” says Dr. Julia Ballance, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at USC School of Medicine.  “Taking an integrated, two generational approach of focusing on the whole family and not just the child helps us move toward a more comprehensive approach to child and family health.”

Starting at the six-month well-visit the family receives their first book. “Even at that age, watching how the baby interacts with a book can be valuable.  When I hand the child a book, I can quickly assess gross and fine motor skills. During the visit I give families things they can do at home to help in their child’s development. I also evaluate a family’s strengths and let them know they are doing a good job. Finally, at the end of the visit, I put notes about our Reach Out and Read interaction in the child’s medical record,” shared Kelsey.

Kelsey selects a suitable book for each patient from a wide selection of shelved books grouped according to age and interest. She is a fan of Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh since it is a great tool for learning colors. Just Me and My Mom by Mercer Mayer is another favorite. The Reach Out and Read inventory also includes bi-lingual books.

Reading is an essential ingredient in every child’s “diet.” Kelsey recommends that families include a daily story time into their routines.

“Reading is absolutely critical for the development of language, listening and reading skills. And it opens a child’s eyes by stimulating their imagination and understanding of the world,” she concludes. Reading aloud to young child is setting the child on the right course for a lifetime of potential.

On a recent visit Kelsey’s parents brought her some books they had saved from her childhood. Going through the box was a happy walk down memory lane. You see, Kelsey will be taking a dose of her own medicine starting in October. She will begin reading every day to her first child.

For more information about Reach Out and Read Carolinas, please visit or call 828.290.9049.

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