When parents read to their children at an early age, those children are more likely to develop language skills that they carry into their adult lives.
That's why proponents of reading to children at an early age formed Reach Out and Read, an evidence-based early literacy program aimed to get books into the hands of the parents of young children.
The idea is simple: pediatricians have age-appropriate books to give to parents of young children and talk to them about the importance of reading to their child at an early age. Posters in the offices and stickers on the back of the books help re-enforce the benefit.
Dr. Wendy Thiessen, a pediatrician at the McFarland Clinic in Marshalltown, is shown reading to a child. The Reach Out Read programs puts books in the hands of pediatricians like Thiessen to pass on to parents and encourage them to read to their children at an early age.
Although the program has been around since 2006, the Reach Out and Read board members are increasing efforts by raising awareness and beginning to distribute books at the two-month Well Child checkup. Doctors participating in the program originally began giving parents books at six months.
"The research has shown that children who are in families that are given these books, it encourages them and supports their reading habits," said Dr. Colette Lothe, a pediatrician and Reach Out and Read board member.
Lothe helps educated primary care providers on how best to drive home the point. The program originated in Boston and has since branched out to communities across the country.
She said teaching children the importance of reading at an early age helps broaden their vocabulary and fosters in them a love of reading.
Betsy Macke, chairperson of the Reach Out and Read board, said parents tend to trust their doctors when it comes to the welfare of their children. The program aims to harness that trust. If parents knew how important reading to their children was, she said they would be more likely to do it.
It's something that stays with a child into adulthood, Macke said. She still remembers reading to her children.
"It's been 30 years, and I can still recite some of the books by memory," she said.
Several studies conclude that reading is an essential way for children to absorb knowledge.
In an article Reach Out and Read medical professionals wrote for Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2008, the authors point to a study that concludes children's books contain 50 percent more rare words than prime-time television or even college students' conversations.
"It's better to hear words from a story in print than to hear it from a screen like a TV," Lothe said.
Sue Junge, the board's secretary treasurer, said Reach Out and Read plays into the Spread the Word-Read by Third campaign that earned Marshalltown the All-America City distinction earlier this year.
This program helps bolster the third grade reading program because it helps sharpen kids' language skills before they even start school, Junge said.
"We are really trying to amp it up so these children get a head start right from the beginning," she said.
To donate to Reach Out and Read, contact Sue Junge at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-350-3285 or Betsy Macke at 641-752-4552. Checks can also be made out to Reach Out and Read Marshall County and mailed to P.O. Box 1542, Marshalltown, Iowa 50158.