A visit to Boston Medical Center's pediatric clinic shows physical health and early literacy go hand-in-hand.
“We know your body's healthy, now let's focus on your mind,” says Dr. Barry Zuckerman. “We learned a long time ago that many of our families did not have books in the home, and we just started giving them.”
In 1989, Zuckerman started the Reach Out and Read program geared toward low-income children. At every visit, children from 6 months to 5 years old get a book from their doctor and parents learn how to make the most of them.
“What I do in the office is actually give the book and then model for the parents sometimes about how to read to children at different ages,” he says.
Children like 17-month-old Devin Ellis and his 6-year-old brother, Diondre, who's now reading above grade level.
“I sometimes can't afford to buy books myself, so it's great to have these free books,” says mom Stephanie Ellis.
Zuckerman's idea has taken off. Today there's a Reach Out and Read program in every state.
Eighteen years and 20 million books later, Reach Out and Read is proof that reading to a child at a young age makes a difference in school success. Studies show kids in the program score four to eight points higher on vocabulary tests, giving 2-year-olds an approximate six-month head start developmentally.
And parents are thrilled.
Vanessa Adams says her 14-month-old daughter, Sophia, looks forward to the new books.
“She enjoys the time that we spend together reading,” says Adams.
“My goal, ultimately, is that giving books to children at visits will be as routine as giving vaccines,” says Zuckerman.
A prescription for early childhood literacy — one book at a time.