Health First Pediatricians Dr. Sheila McLeod and Dr. Christine Witte Offer ‘Reach Out’ On Reading
By Space Coast Daily // September 8, 2023
part of a new partnership with the national nonprofit Reach Out and Read
Literacy a ‘major determinant’ of success for children, Pediatrician says. “They’re going to be, like, ‘Hey, can we go to the doctor and get a book?’ … and not just remember the shots,” patients’ mother says.
BREVARD COOUNTY, FLORIDA – A dentist’s appointment almost always closes with the happy handoff of a take-home bag – sample-sized toothpaste, small spool of floss and a brand-new toothbrush. Physicians don’t typically keep such a stock of goodies, but at one office, that’s changing.
Health First Pediatricians Sheila McLeod, MD, and Christine Witte, MD, onboarded a few shelves of new books for ages birth to 5 years. There’s “Goodnight Moon,” “Zoo Babies,” “Clifford Barks!,” “How Many Are There?,” “Smile!” and many more.
It’s part of a new partnership with the national nonprofit Reach Out and Read, an early childhood literacy advocacy group, and at Health First, it’s funded entirely by the Health First Foundation.
“What we’ve found in medicine is that improved literacy improves health outcomes overall, throughout every phase of life,” said Dr. McLeod.
She called literacy a “major determinant” of success for her patients and children everywhere. It’s critical that a child enter kindergarten at or beyond where they should be for reading, because continued success depends on it.
A Prescription to Read
That all of this is coming from a doctor in a medical setting is no accident. Here, a “patient is given a new book and a prescription to read,” the doctor says.
Reach Out and Read (ROR) says the benefits of the effort are both plainly evident and research-backed.
The presence of books accompanied by a short explanation from a health authority made parents significantly more likely to read with their infants and young children, to do so daily, and to use books to engage with their baby or child, according to its research.
Results showed such children had higher receptive and expressive language scores and greater improvements in language scores.
Further, the program boasts a generationall effect – parents’ own attitudes and behavior toward reading are transformed. According to Reach Out and Read, more than 20 studies show families are 2.5 times as likely to enjoy reading together or to have books in the home. Parents increased their own weekly reading, and participating families demonstrated higher attendance rates for well visits at doctors’ offices.
A Connection That’s Special
On a morning earlier this month, Tammy Miller brought her twin 2-1/2-year-old boys in for a well check, and they picked out a book to read in the office while waiting, and then two new books to take home with them.
“This is very important, especially in this day and age of screens,” she said.
The aim of literacy efforts with very young children is not to introduce sight reading but to practice the act of sitting with books, imagining a story unfolding, talking about what happens on a page and discerning the shapes and colors – even learning that a book opens and pages are to be turned sequentially. But books at the doctor’s office?
“Oh, yeah, it’s part of the experience now. They’re going to be, like, ‘Hey, can we go to the doctor and get a book?’ … and not just remember the shots!” Miller said.
When the boys were born, they spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital, and as part of a package of complimentary infant supplies, the family got books then, too.
“They’re really special to us because that was a hard time,” Miller remembers. “The very first books they got were from the hospital NICU, so that connection is special.”
Is she talking about the train book, one of the twins asked.
“Yes, that’s the train book,” she answered. “Now, we can tell all our friends that our doctor gives us books.”
To learn more about how the Health First Foundation supports efforts like this as well as helping people in need get life-saving care, visit HF.org/give.