For the past 11 years, I have been the local site coordinator in my pediatric offices for the Reach Out and Read Program. My journey began as an intern, when I adopted the program from a graduating resident. It continued during my work as a general pediatrician in a community health center, and it is ongoing in my role as a pediatrician in private practice. From the start, I fell in love with the message of Reach Out and Read: give books and anticipatory guidance to children in the office ages 6 months to 5 years. The unique model of the program is as follows:
1. Talk with parents about how important it is to read aloud and engage with their young children. I enjoy talking to parents and grandparents about reading. It brings back fond memories of trips I had with my mother to our local library and getting up to 10 books at a time. It also brings back memories of bedtime stories and my mother reading nursery rhymes in her sweet Caribbean accent. When a father reads to his child with a thick southern drawl, it melts my heart! Kids love when their parents read aloud to them.
2. Demonstrate the best way to look at books and talk about the stories with their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. In each exam room, I have a poster, which explains the milestones of early literacy development. It is broken down into 4 sections: motor development, communication and cognition, anticipatory guidance, and what to read. For example, a 6-month-old can hold their head steady, sit in a caregiver’s lap, smile, babble, grab the book, and put the book in his or her mouth. This is the perfect age for board books and cute photos!!! These babies literally eat the words up!
3. Encourage them to cuddle up and read together at home and build routines around books. Then, give a new book to the child to take home and keep. I love to see parents cuddling with their children, reading a book in my office. During their visits, 100% of my patients get a book at every check-up from age 6 months to 5 years. That’s 10 books for each child by the time they get to kindergarten. My husband is an educator, and I use his technique of “D.E.A.R: Drop Everything and Read” in my office and in my home. In my office, during the first 1-2 minutes of the check-up for kids 5 years and under, we read aloud. In my home, each afternoon for 20-30 minutes, my children find a spot and read.
I encourage you to start a Reach Out and Read Program in your office. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my practice!
As the chair of the Early Career Physician Section of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, my goal is for every young pediatrician in Georgia to feel connected and heard. Please let me know how I can best serve you. Sending a little love your way for the new year! Hug your family for me.
Sylvia Washington, MD, FAAP
Chair, Early Career Physician Section
Georgia AAP, Rome