Reach Out and Read, a national hospital-based pre-literacy program that links reading aloud with giving books to children aged six months to five years during their primary health care visits was established in 1989 at Boston City Hospital. The program was initiated by the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Ambulatory Care Network, Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian and the Community Pediatrics of Columbia University in 1997, and is today one of the largest of 3,000 Reach Out and Read programs nationwide.
Providers of pediatric medicine know better than most that the developing brain is shaped by the stimulation of language, words, repetition and reading. Reading means healthy kids and a world of opportunity for them; and research tells us that being read to is the best medicine for a child's cognitive and language development. Reading aloud to children, indeed, is considered to be the single most important activity to promoting future school success and a lifelong enjoyment of literacy activities.
The program in operation is relatively straightforward. During pediatric primary care visits, the health care provider, a doctor or nurse practitioner, offers the child a gift of a specially selected book. The personal relationship that develops between the patient and the health care professional allows for books tailored to the child's individual needs and interests to be selected. This assures that the gift will have greater meaning for the child. In presenting the book, the doctor or nurse looks through it with the child, commenting to the parent or caretaker on the child's responses and makes a linkage to reading as related to the child's developmental stage and the multitude of values associated with reading.
Pivotal to the success of Reach Out and Read is the involvement of volunteers who read to children in the waiting rooms. Volunteers receive instruction and training in early childhood development, the elements of literacy, and strategies for interactive reading aloud. As they read aloud, volunteers simultaneously encourage children to identify pictures and add their own experiences. They provide children with an opportunity to re-tell a story by expressing their thoughts through art.
The role of the hospital in the delivery of modern health care extends beyond providing medical necessities such as immunizations and regular check-ups. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has sustained a long tradition of community care and has been especially innovative in improving community health through ancillary programs and complementary activities. Reach Out and Read offers the chance to provide our youngest citizens with skills and experiences they can use to succeed and build a good life. By promoting literacy hand-in-hand with health, Reach Out and Read helps to build strong citizens and healthier communities.