By: Marny Dunlap, MD and Lori Lake

Have you ever thought about the one thing you could do to help set a child on a healthy path towards literacy and academic achievement? Interestingly, it doesn’t involve fancy electronics or cost a chunk of your paycheck. It only requires a lap, some of your time, and a book from the library. Reading aloud is the single most important researched activity leading to language development and promotes early literacy skills. Simple, basic interactions between an adult and an infant have enormous cognitive implications. Neural connections that form the basis for communication and social skills are created during pre-linguistic ‘serve and return’ moments, such as appropriate responses to babbles, gestures and cries. Reading aloud provides a fertile set of circumstances for abundant serve and return. One tool for primary care providers is Reach Out and Read (ROR).

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based intervention that makes early literacy a standard part of pediatric primary care with a special emphasis on children who grow up in low-income communities. It gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. The intervention builds on the unique relationship between families and medical providers to develop critical early language and reading skills in children.

According to literacy research, by the time children from low-income families enter kindergarten, they are typically 12-14 months below national norms in language and pre-reading skills. In order to address this troubling situation, Reach Out and Read partners with medical providers to introduce literacy practices to children and families at a young age, giving them tools they need to enter school prepared to learn. Currently, there are more than 200 medical providers giving early literacy guidance, fostering parental engagement, and giving new books to nearly 78,000 children at 84 clinical locations in 38 counties throughout Oklahoma each year. These locations include private clinics, hospitals, tribal clinics and health centers, county health departments, pediatric and family practice residency training programs, and the two Oklahoma clinics that specialize in serving children in foster care.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended the Reach Out and Read model as an essential component of pediatric care. Our program is both cost-effective and evidence-based. Key findings of a substantial body of peer reviewed research demonstrate that because of our intervention:

• Parents are two and a half times more likely to read to their children
• Children’s language development is improved by 3-6 months
• Children’s language ability improves with increased exposure to ROR

The Reach Out and Read researched-based model includes three key components. First, during well-child visits doctors prescribe reading by modeling read-aloud strategies while teaching and training the parent about how to share books and why it is so important both for language development and emotional bonding. Second, each child gets a new book at every well-child visit between six months and five years to take home to keep. For many children, this is the first book that has ever been received! Lastly, clinic environments support literacy-rich messaging and provide resources to families to assist them in engaging in daily literacy activities with their children.

Reach Out and Read has the potential to create systemic change because we empower parents to become their children’s first teachers and primary advocates by giving them guidance on the critical importance of reading aloud with young children.

We are very proud of the significant expansion that Reach Out and Read has made in Oklahoma the past few years. More families are receiving literacy guidance and becoming more engaged with their young. Through the books given out at well-child visits, more children are creating their own libraries at home. Even though nearly 78,000 children in Oklahoma are receiving this valuable, literacy intervention, there are many, many more we still need to reach. How can you help?

• Become a Reach Out and Read site.
• Create and adopt a book nook within your clinic.
• Write an Op-Ed on the importance of early literacy intervention and parent engagement to be shared with your local paper.
• Assist in recruiting other medical providers in various parts of the state.
• Encourage your state legislators to support Reach Out and Read in Oklahoma.
• Make a gift to Reach Out and Read to support the Oklahoma program. $100 will enable a child to receive the full benefits of this program for five years, $20 for one year. To donate, please click here. THANK YOU!!

If you have any questions or would like additional information about how to become a Reach Out and Read site, feel free to contact Lori Lake at or (405) 669-1849.