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Kentucky Pediatricians Feel Reading is Good Medicine

Lisa Autry
Credit Lisa Autry
Dr. Tanvi Patel examines 6-year-old Alarus Claibourn at Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox.

Studies suggest reading to children early in their development enhances their vocabulary, helps them identify letters and become better readers.  Yet, less than half of U.S. children are read to on a daily basis. 

To counteract that problem, reading is being doctor-prescribed in certain parts of the commonwealth, like Muhlenberg County.

Dr. Billie Galyen sees about 6,000 kids a year at her pediatric clinic in Greenville.

Five-year-old Brady and three-year-old Noah are there for check-ups. Every child six months to five years old leaves the office with a new book to take home and a prescription to read.

"It evens the playing field as far as education and literacy," says Galyen. "We've seen data nationally that this also increases the likelihood that they'll finish school, and may even increase the literacy of their own parents who may need help with reading."

Brady and Noah's mom, Natasha Newman, says adding the literacy aspect to medical appointments erases any white coat syndrome the boys may have.

"I like that it gives them something to look forward to and it's not a negative experience at the doctor's office," says Newman.

Brady and Noah Newman are among some 4 million children across the nation who are served by the Reach Out and Read program. This national non-profit organization was started 20 years ago by group of pediatricians in Boston. "They noticed when they brought books into the waiting room, the books would disappear, explains Dr. Donna Grigsby, who heads the Kentucky chapter of Reach Out and Read. 

"They decided it would be nice to use their trusting relationship with parents to promote the importance of reading to their children at a young age."

Dr. Grigsby, is a pediatrician at the University of Kentucky Children's Hospital. As pediatricians dispense advice to parents on immunizations, potty training, and car seats, the Reach Out and Read program impresses upon parents that they are their child's most important teacher.

"Sometimes they are surprised we talk about that, but what we've found in studies suggests that once your health care provider tells you to read to your child, you're between four and ten times more likely to do so," Grigsby comments.

Fewer than half of young children in the U.S. are read to daily.  Low-income and minority children are even less likely to grow up with a love for reading. Dr. Tanvi Patel treats children at the at the Ireland Army Community hospital at Fort Knox.

"For our families, in general, they go through a lot of stress, especially with deployments," explains Patel.  "We have very young families and this just gives them support to say 'We're not here just to see if you have an illness with your child, but we're here overall to help with your children.'"

Dr. Patel speaks with Army wife Alycia Romeo, who has brought her three children to the clinic for check-ups before the start of a new school year. While these children, ages six, eight, and 12, have outgrown the Reach Out and Read program, Dr. Patel uses the appointment to encourage them to visit the library.

"The one on post is great.  It has lots of programs for kids, so take them there are check out some books so you don't have to buy so many. Definitely use that, mom, because early reading makes a world of difference in reading comprehension and they do a lot better in school."

Fort Knox is one of  78 clinics in Kentucky participating in Reach Out and Read. The program serves nearly 47,000 children  in the commonwealth annually, but as of June 30, the program no longer has state funding.  Reach Out and Read State Director Donna Grigsby is looking for other funding sources such as corporate donations. 

"The average cost for a child to complete this program from six months to five years is $50, so it's a very inexpensive program," suggests Grigsby. "You figure for a five-year program, that's about ten dollars a year for a child."

Dr. Grigsby considers it a small investment for a program that engages parents and prepares children to enter kindergarten ready to flourish. 

"We are determined not to let this program die in this state," Grigsby adds.

More than 85,000 books were given out last year in Kentucky, to what Grigsby hopes is a new generation of book lovers.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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