What could be better for a young child than a doctor “prescribing” reading? To increase early exposure to books, the national literacy organization Reach Out and Read (ROR) partners with healthcare providers in all 50 states to incorporate reading into pediatric care.
Nationwide, Reach Out and Read has 6,100 program sites that work to promote literacy, equity, and understanding in children from birth through age five. With over 230 programs across New York City, Long Island, and the Greater Hudson Valley alone, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York (ROR GNY) works with an incredibly diverse community of children and provides books to over 250,000 families each year.
Reach Out and Read's Mission
As part of their core program, ROR trains pediatric care providers to deliver early literacy guidance during doctor’s appointments. Each time a child comes in for a visit, the appointment begins with a culturally and developmentally appropriate book, which is provided by ROR at no cost. In addition to fostering early literacy skills for young patients, these readings serve as an assessment tool for providers and caregivers by providing important insight into a child’s growth and development.
The visits are also beneficial to parents, who learn firsthand how to stimulate their child’s literacy development. According to Kristen Rocha Aldrich, Program Director for ROR GNY, “one of the best things about this model is that it contributes to the ultimate goal of getting children to read while also working to meet parents and caregivers where they are.”
“We build on the unique relationship between parents and
medical providers to develop essential early literacy skills in
young children via the existing health infrastructure.”
- Reach Out and Read of Greater New York
Another aspect of ROR’s mission is creating literacy-rich waiting areas and exam rooms for children and their families. From intellectually stimulating books to educational posters and toys, these resources entertain and engage families throughout an entire doctor visit.
ROR GNY also has an array of community programs and partnerships that provide literacy tools for children outside of their time at the doctor’s office. In collaboration with the New York Public Library System, some clinics connect patients with local librarians, who help families sign up for library cards and weekly story times. Additionally, ROR hosts virtual read alouds in English, Spanish, and other languages each week on their Facebook page. ROR GNY also posts bilingual workshops for parents and caregivers, covering diverse topics ranging from child nutrition to the acquisition of math skills through literature.
Serving the Community During a Pandemic
Throughout the past year, ROR has found incredible ways to continue their work for the greater New York area despite a pandemic. When the number of in-person well-child visits began to decrease in March of 2020, ROR partnered with the NYC Health+Hospitals Test & Trace Corps to reach families in need.
Over 75 resource navigators from Test & Trace were trained to deliver the ROR model at testing locations, and any parent who came for a COVID-19 test received early literacy guidance and a book for their child. In six months alone, this initiative succeeded in providing 45,000 books to children in the NYC area!
ROR also worked with community partners like City’s First Readers, WNET, and the Children’s Museum of the Arts to gather materials for “take care kits” during the pandemic. Complete with cleaning supplies, PPE, children’s books, activity books, and art supplies, these kits were offered to families in NYC who tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined at home.
Tackling Tough Conversations in Native Languages
In addition to providing services through a pandemic, ROR GNY is committed to “tackling some of today’s tough conversations about racial bias, equity, and inclusion” (reachoutandreadnyc.org). One place where this mission can be seen at work is in their diverse book collection.
In a region where English may not be a child’s first language, Aldrich recognizes that “it is our responsibility to provide families with books in their home language. Having kids learn a home language in addition to English is setting them up for future success and to be stronger readers later in life.”
Platypus Media has worked with a number of ROR programs to provide books in bilingual English/Spanish editions. Recently, we had the honor of partnering with ROR GNY to produce Bengali titles for the many Bangladeshi-American families that they serve.
With the help of our translator Shahnoor Islam, a Bangladeshi-American and librarian in Queens, NY, we released two award-winning early childhood books in bilingual English/Bengali editions: Cuddled and Carried / আদরে ও আলিঙ্গনে and Atoms /পরমাণু.
These books, as well as other world language and multicultural titles, are valuable additions to ROR’s collection and bring the program one step closer to what Aldrich calls “complete inclusion.”
“It’s incredible to have high quality children’s books translated into Spanish and Bengali.”
-Kristen Rocha Aldrich
In the future, we hope to have the opportunity to produce books in Mandarin and Arabic, two languages for which ROR GNY also has significant demand.
Linguistic diversity, however, is not the only factor that ROR considers when finding books for the children they serve. Aldrich and other Program Directors seek to “diversify the book collection” in as many ways as possible, including by finding titles that spark conversation about race and racism, LGBTQ rights, ableism, equity, and more.
As Aldrich explains, these topics are present and influential in all aspects of life and are “not something that we can just pick up off the shelf when we feel it’s convenient … or when we feel kids are old enough to talk about it. These are things that every child should learn about and come to understand starting from the day they are born.”
How to Support Reach Out and Read
If you would like to contribute to Reach Out and Read’s mission of promoting literacy while fostering physical, mental, and emotional development in children across the nation, there are several ways to get involved:
To learn more about our world language titles in Bengali, Haitian Creole, Dutch, Hebrew, Korean, Washoe, and more, or to explore the possibility of creating a book in a new language, contact Caitlin@PlatypusMedia.com.
If you are interested in branding books for your organization, visit our customization page.