Reach out and read…

Fairview Northland Dr. Kathleen Abrahamson has patient Ella Schmatz answer questions about a book Dr. Abrahamson was showing Ella, during Ella’s visit to the Fairview Northland medical clinic in Princeton last Friday.

“My Friend Rabbit” helped Dr. Kathleen Abrahamson gauge key parts of three-year-old Ella Schmatz’ educational development during the girl’s pediatric checkup Friday, Oct. 12 at Fairview Northland Medical Center.

After about 20 minutes of having Ella look at and answer questions about several children’s books, including “My Friend Rabbit,” Abrahamson indicated that Ella was certainly up to par for her age. Ella also left the exam room with a prescription in the form of nearly a half dozen free children’s books.

Ella, who will turn four next month, correctly answered the doctor’s questions about colors in various book illustrations, pointed to where a letter for the start of Ella’s first name was in the book title, “Imagine,” and correctly interpreted various pictures.

While Ella’s smile showed she was enjoying the books, this was serious business, something that is part of Reach Out and Read’s mission. That is to prepare America’s youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together.

Fairview’s clinics are among the many organizations who are using programs of the nonprofit Reach Out and Read program, started at Boston Medical Center in 1989, to gauge and improve child development.

Reach Out and Read is now being used throughout the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and at 55 U.S. military bases.

Doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals show books through Reach Out and Read to children age six months to five years, during regular pediatric checkups. During the checkups, a doctor asks the child questions about books the doctor is opening up to them. Then when the child and parent are ready to leave, the doctor gives the child a number of free development-appropriate books to take home. The parent is also encouraged to make sure reading is a regular activity in their home.


Widely used

Reach Out and Read programs are in more than 4,900 hospitals and health centers, and Fairview in Princeton has been using the program since the beginning of this year. Fairview employs Julie Abear as coordinator of the program at all of Fairview’s 40-plus clinics.

The Reach Out and Read program emphasizes reaching children from low-income backgrounds.

“It’s such a wonderful program because I can focus on this,” said Abear, as she watched Dr. Abrahamson and Ella interact as they looked at the pages in various children’s books last Friday.

Ella answered many questions from Abrahamson about the book, “My Friend Rabbit,” such as why a slew of animals, including a deer, alligator, hippo, bear, goose and more were stacked atop each other below a tree limb, and why they were upset.

The plot was that Mouse’s friend Rabbit had flown Mouse’s airplane into a tree top, getting it stuck. Rabbit, to solve the problem, talked the animals into climbing on top of each other to make an animal pile high enough so that rabbit, at the top, could push mouse up to reach his plane. Mouse reaches the plane just before the animal pile collapses.

While Abear is employed by Fairview, Fairview does not pay the cost of the books that doctors and other medical professionals give free to children during the medical checkups. Abear explains that the funding is from donations to Fairview Foundation and from grants. Abear says she works hard to negotiate the best book-purchase deals.

Reach Out and Read literature states that families served by Reach Out and Read read together more often and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills and a six-month developmental edge.

Abear noted that a lot can be observed in how a child reacts in the exam room when a book is offered, in gauging what the child’s experiences have been with books. Ella is a good example of someone who is very familiar with books, said Abear, explaining that Ella crawled up to be positioned to have a book read to her in the exam room. The act of a parent and child reading together also contributes to bonding between mother and child, Abear noted.

If it is determined the child needs a little extra help in their development, Abear said, a doctor can refer the parent to early childhood development programs. Princeton has very good early childhood development programs in its schools, Abear added.

Abrahamson, Abear and Ella’s grandmother Shirley Wilken, who were all in the exam room with Ella, agreed that the earlier a child gets the help they need through reading, the better chance they have to be on track when they start kindergarten. If the child is far behind, it can take years to catch up, Abear said. “We want them to start (school) ready,” Abear said. “That is the goal of the school system here.”

Parents could even start reading to their child while it is developing in the womb, Wilken added.

“There is a lot of evidence a child can learn before it is born,” Dr. Abrahamson responded.