It’s early in the day, but the waiting room at Alamosa Family Medical Center is already crowded. Two-year-old Michelle is here with her dad, who has an appointment with one of the physicians; Ozzy, also 2, is here with his mom. The clinic’s story corner, which is stocked with books thanks to a partnership between Save the Children, Reach Out and Read and Valley-Wide Health Systems, makes the wait a lot more enjoyable. “Michelle loves the story corner here,” says dad, Brady.
Judy Duarte, the Early Literacy Coordinator at Valley-Wide Health Systems, makes sure that gently-used books are available for all children in the waiting rooms to read and take home at each of the group’s health centers throughout rural Colorado. “We distribute hundreds of age-appropriate books each month at our clinics,” says Judy.
The task is substantially easier now, thanks to the Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant, which provides many of the books and sets up story corners in places like community centers and coffee shops in addition to doctors’ offices.
The books are not only found in the waiting rooms, but in the examining rooms too. Through the Reach Out and Read programs, medical providers are trained to teach parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children. At each of their regular checkups, from age 2 months to 5 years, children are given a new book to take home to read. “Even the babies get the books,” says Julie Longfellow, one of the clinic’s nurses. “They touch them, bite them and try to turn the pages,” she says.
Learning experiences in the early years shape brain architecture and have a direct impact on social, emotional and learning skills. “We’ve always encouraged reading. It’s important for brain development,” says physician’s assistant, Kirk Kritner. “And now the kids look forward to coming in for their visits. They know they’ll be getting a book – and it keeps their minds off their vaccinations,” he adds.