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UT Houston Pediatricians: Healing Children, Inspiring Readers
'The Kids' Place' distributes thousands of books annually to encourage pre-school literacy
"Suzie, is Suzie out here? It's time for your check-up," calls the nurse in the waiting room.
Suzie, hand-in-hand with her mother, heads through the big door. The 3-year-old patient is a little nervous, anticipating she may be receiving a shot in her very near future.
Once she is in the exam room, the pediatrician knocks on the door. It's time for her well-child checkup. The doctor examines her and says, "Give me five. You are becoming a big girl. You are healthy and are up-to-date on all of your shots. Guess what? You get a book today!"
This scene plays out daily at UT Houston's "The Kids' Place" in The University of Texas Health Science Center Professional Building, 6410 Fannin. In the last six months, pediatricians have handed out more than 6,500 books to their patients during well-child checkups.
It is part of a national program called Reach Out and Read. Reach Out and Read-Texas is part of the Children's Learning Institute in the Department of Pediatrics at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
"It's a wonderful program. Parents and children look forward to routine checkups because they know they will be receiving a book at the end of the visit," said Johnnie P. Frazier, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics. "Occasionally, before we can hand a book to a child, some mothers will ask, ‘Where is the book?' because her child loves to look at the pictures help turn or even bite on the thick pages. A lot of families say they have used this program to build their child's home library. They also say that because of the books, they read every night now."
Children receive books at their well-child checkups from the time they are 6 months old until they are 5 years old, according to Kim Anderson, director of Reach Out and Read-Texas.
A well-child checkup is the time for a pediatrician to evaluate a child's growth, mental development, administer vaccinations and answer any questions from parents. The checkups will generally follow the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Most people might be surprised to know that even a baby's face lights up. This program is about informing parents about how crucial it is to begin their child's language development early on. Reach Out and Read gives families guidance and developmentally appropriate books which encourage parents to spend time developing their child's language skills. Reading aloud benefits a child by promoting vocabulary development, memory, critical thinking skills, phonological and print awareness," said Anderson.
Anderson added that doctors are often the first professionals parents and children see. It makes sense for doctors to discuss the critical window for early literacy development. Without the Reach Out and Read program, some children may not have exposure to literacy materials any other way. Children will be behind the curve if they do not have access to books before they begin elementary school, Anderson notes.
UT Houston has been a part of this national program since 1999. Last year, UT pediatricians distributed approximately 13,000 books to children at "The Kids' Place." Books are available in English and Spanish.
"The hope is for children to grow up understanding that reading is important. The pediatricians speak with the parents about the importance of reading with their children. Reading aloud sets the groundwork for a strong educational foundation and school success," said Anderson.
By Melissa McDonald, Institutional Advancement
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