Every year, a third of children start kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read. Local physicians are hoping to change that statistic.
In the last two years, physicians at The Vancouver Clinic have given away roughly 25,000 children’s books during appointments with young patients.
The clinic began incorporating books into well-child visits in 2007, when Dr. Devon Ebbing applied to launch a Reach Out and Read program. Since then, Vancouver Clinic physicians have handed out 7,000 to 12,000 books per year to children 6 months to 5 years old.
“We’re trying to do our part to make kids ready for kindergarten and their early elementary school education,” Ebbing said.
Reach Out and Read is a national program that encourages physicians to hand out age-appropriate books to young children at every well-child visit. In Washington, more than 170 medical practices in 31 counties participate in the program. A few years ago, local clinics Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Family Medicine of Southwest Washington and Family Wellness Center joined the program.
All children benefit from having books read aloud to them, Ebbing said. They like to read, they do better in school and their language skills are more advanced, she said.
“Kids who participate in the program, by age 2, have a six-month language advantage over kids who don’t,” Ebbing said. “That’s a big advantage for 2.”
Ebbing strives to have books that are developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive. Babies receive board books with lots of pictures. Todders get books with more words and rhyming. The 3- to 5-year-olds get paperback books with multiple sentences on each page.
Ebbing also has a collection of books in Spanish and Russian, as well as some bilingual books.
Ebbing uses the books handed out during a visit as a way to observe the child and educate the parents. For example, when Ebbing hands a 6-month-old a book, she likes to watch the child reach for and handle the book as a measure of the child’s gross motor skills. When the baby puts the book in his or her mouth, Ebbing uses that as a teaching moment to remind parents that babies explore their world by putting things in either mouth.
Ebbing may also use the book as a way to discuss bedtime routines. Kids with a great bedtime routine that involves reading a book with a parent will transition easier from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a toddler bed, Ebbing said.
Each year, Ebbing raises funds to pay for the books, and The Vancouver Clinic matches the donations. Ebbing holds annual events, applies for grants and works with publishers to buy books in bulk at a lower cost. Ebbing sets her annual book budget at $40,000, but she’s managed to keep costs considerably lower, about $20,000 to $30,000, by buying in bulk, she said.
Jill Sughrue, a local independent representative for the publisher Barefoot Books and the owner of Nani Books, has worked with Ebbing the last two years to provide Ebbing with about 1,000 Barefoot Books, dropping the cost of most of the books down to $2.50 from their regular price of $6.99.
Ebbing has one message she tries to convey to patients and parents involved in the program: “Reading is doctor-recommended.”