Four things successful Reach Out and Read programs do

As a project coordinator who has visited more than 90 Reach Out and Read (ROR) clinics in Wisconsin, I am always impressed by our clinics’ commitment to early literacy and their fidelity to the ROR model. Our team is grateful to the more than 200 clinics in the state, who on top of their already numerous responsibilities have embraced ROR and are committed to the success of their youngest patients.

After completing these visits, I have noticed there are a few things that high performing clinics do. Some of these are obvious, like having adequate funding or staff who are engaged. But what separates the highest performing clinics? Below are four things I have consistently seen successful clinics doing.

Leveraging their local community

If you attended our annual meeting last year, this was a key message. Even in the smallest communities clinics can work with local groups and town residents to help the clinic’s ROR program thrive. Groups and places of business that have worked with ROR Wisconsin programs in the past include:

  • Public libraries
  • Technical colleges
  • National Honor Society clubs
  • Literacy councils
  • Lions clubs
  • Rotary groups

Even if your clinic does not have a library or adult literacy organization in town, promoting the nearest option is still a good idea. Check out Wisconsin Literacy’s map to find an adult literacy program near you.

Collaborating with community organizations and individuals is key to building strategic partnerships. It is likely you will find the work your clinic is doing through ROR accomplishes a goal that many community members share; giving every child a good start and providing tools they will need to succeed in the future.

Working with community members also creates buy-in for your ROR program. Collaboration will build awareness in the community for your clinic’s positive work surrounding early literacy and school readiness.

Talking about ROR and its impact

Clinics with successful ROR programs frequently talk about the program, reading aloud and the positive impact on brain and child development. Whether during provider or medical assistant meetings, through internal or external newsletters, the local newspaper or on social media, successful clinics share their ROR story and the impact it has on local children and families.

Reading to kids
Reading aloud to children at the local library or in the clinic is a great way to generate enthusiasm for the program

A few examples:

  • Monroe clinics showcased Reach Out and Read in their Summer 2017 Health Smart newsletter on the front page and with a full page article.
  • Northlakes clinics in Northern Wisconsin promoted their commitment to literacy through an article their AmeriCorp volunteer wrote, which highlighted their ROR program
  • Clinicians read aloud during library story time
  • Even the most experienced ROR clinics benefit from talking about ROR at staff meetings

ROR is part of the clinic’s routine

The obvious answer here is eliminating workflow issues. In order for a ROR program to work well, it has to be kept simple. Follow these tips to avoid common workflow issues:

  • Store books near exam rooms or nurse’s station
  • When possible, do not keep books in a locked office or cabinet
  • If providers are forgetting to give the book or talk to families about reading aloud, add it as a SmartPhrase in Epic
  • If your clinic does not use an electronic medical record system, place the book outside the exam room in a clear plastic bag or install small baskets outside the door
  • When your book distribution is low, use a tracking sheet and tally it more regularly. Instead of just counting once every six months, count weekly or monthly (depending on patient volume). It will be easier to identify problems, if tallies are counted more frequently.

Engaging as many of the clinic staff as possible

At every clinic there will always be certain people who are champions of early literacy and ROR.  However, clinics that are successful and get the most out of the program engage a wide variety of staff. A few ideas to get more staff involved:

  • When ordering books ask the medical providers which books they enjoy or their patients seem to enjoy.
  • If your clinic is collecting gently-used books, have a drop-off point at the reception desk and ask the staff there to sort the books, using ROR guidelines.
  • Some clinic’s reception staff help by creating the literacy-rich environment in the waiting room or by keeping a literacy bulletin board updated.
  • Keep literacy stickers at the reception desk for children to get after their visits.
  • Ask building maintenance to build shelving units for your literacy-rich environment, like the clinic in Minong did. 
  • Ask volunteers to build a Little Free Library like UW Health Oregon did this past spring.
    Sauk Prairie Healthcare Lodi Clinic waiting room which the reception staff created and helps maintain

    What does your clinic do to make your ROR program successful? Share your tips in the comment section below.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin honored with Friend of Education award

ROR Wisconsin team with Friend of Education award

On Sept. 21, Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin was honored by State Superintendent Tony Evers with a Friend of Education award. This award was presented during the annual State of Education address. ROR Wisconsin was one of five organizations or individuals recognized for making outstanding contributions to children in Wisconsin.

ROR Wisconsin’s goal is to prepare all children for kindergarten by emphasizing early literacy during the first five years of life. Research shows 95 percent of brain development happens before age 6. ROR capitalizes on this by partnering with clinicians to prescribe books and encourage families to read together.

Part of ROR Wisconsin’s success is due to the cost effectiveness and scalability of the evidenced-based model. Two other factors that have also contributed to the success are founding project manager, Karin Mahony, MEd, MSW and medical director, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD. Both have worked tirelessly to promote and implement the program to more than 200 clinics throughout the state. ROR Wisconsin now touches the lives of 20 percent of children younger than age 6.

Mahony, who accepted the award on behalf of ROR Wisconsin, said the award, “… speaks to a greater understanding that success in school has its underpinnings in supporting parents as their child’s first teacher.” She is also hopeful that the recognition will increase the awareness of ROR’s work in the state.

ROR Wisconsin staff continue to work with our clinics to support the highest quality early literacy promotion throughout the state. By 2020, ROR Wisconsin hopes to reach 30 percent of Wisconsin kids younger than age 6.

Innovative grant leads to program growth in Fox Cities

Since 2015, the Appleton Public Library (APL) has partnered with the Fox Cities’ medical community and all local public libraries in an effort to expand local participation in Reach Out and Read (ROR). APL is recognized by ROR National Center as a community partner in the support and expansion of Reach Out and Read. These efforts have been granted the designation, ROR Partners – Fox Cities. This group works closely with ROR Wisconsin staff to achieve its goals and maintain high quality program standards.

The ongoing work of ROR Partners – Fox Cities is made possible through an innovative grant from the United Way Fox Cities, which is the result of generous support from community donors.

The Fox Cities’ community keeps the child the focus of this unique effort. With the goal of reaching every child in the Fox Cities through a regional effort, ROR Partners – Fox Cities works together to encourage parents to read aloud daily to their infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Daily reading aloud is a simple and effective way of fostering nurturing, language-rich family interactions that support brain development and provide a foundation for success.

So how has this unique, regional collaboration impacted the growth of ROR in the Fox Cities’ community? During the past 2 years:

  • More than 21,000 books have been handed out to children ages 6 months to 5 years during their well-visits
  • 92 healthcare providers have been trained in early literacy promotion and have been encouraging and supporting parents as their child’s first and most important teacher
  • 13 medical clinics have launched their own ROR programs
  • Eight public libraries support their closest ROR clinic by keeping them stocked with gently-used books, providing library programming information, and overall literacy support
  • Five major health systems and multiple independent clinics are currently working together to secure long-term funding for the work of ROR Partners – Fox Cities
  • Four local businesses have supported the ROR efforts by hosting very successful internal book drives
  • Two literacy-rich environments have been created at medical clinics to be used as examples in the community of what a literacy-rich waiting room or child’s reading area could look like

Since the collaboration began, ROR Partners – Fox Cities’ providers and families have been surveyed annually. This survey tracks changes in the behaviors and attitudes towards reading as well as to maintain fidelity to the ROR model.

During the next 18 months of the innovative grant, a committee will work to ensure ROR Partners – Fox Cities remains active in the community for years to come.

Is your community interested in launching a similar effort? Here are a few tips:

  • Engage a healthcare provider who is also deeply invested in our youth and has a love of reading. They can help you champion the program in the community
  • Involve your local public library! They understand the importance of early literacy and may be able to partner with you
  • Educate your local United Way or community foundation on what ROR is all about! It’s important to show them the difference between ROR and other early literacy programs. ROR is not just a book giveaway but a clinical intervention which changes families reading behaviors. Bring along a copy of the published, peer reviewed, national research on ROR
  • Consider hosting ROR Wisconsin’s medical director, Dr. Navsaria for an event and invite all key community contacts
  • Check with ROR Wisconsin staff if your community efforts qualify for the ROR Partners designation.

Still have questions? Feel free to contact ROR Partners – Fox Cities program coordinator: Abbey Unruh at aunruh@apl.org or 920-832-5821.

Mosaic Family Health's literacy-rich waiting room created by APL in Fox Cities area
Mosaic Family Health’s literacy-rich waiting room created by Appleton Public Library

 

Librarians from APL, Fox Cities
Librarians from Appleton Public Library

How to create a literacy-rich environment on a budget

Northlakes Community Clinic Minong

Picture 1 of 7

This waiting room has it all! Gently-used books, child-sized furniture, rain gutters for book shelves, a magazine organizer made from wire and binder clips and a Dr. Seuss quote in removable stickers.

Click here to learn how to DIY the rain gutter bookshelves.

The hanging magazine organizer DIY was made up by the clinic’s staff using picture hanging wire and binder clips. Simply measure your desired length and cut the wire and secure to wall with screws. Attach magazines using large binder clips. Simple and inexpensive!

The Dr. Seuss quote is available for $9 on Amazon .

 

All photos featured in this post, were taken at clinics around Wisconsin. If you try one of these literacy-rich projects or have other ideas, share them in the comments section below!

How to support literacy in Wisconsin

Whether you choose to support a literacy organization or donate your gently-used books, there are plenty of opportunities to promote literacy and a love of reading to last a lifetime. Check out this list for ideas to get involved in Wisconsin.

Volunteer:

  • Adult literacy: Use Wisconsin Literacy’s map to contact a program near you and become an adult literacy tutor. Tutors are needed to assist adult basic education learners, GED preparation and English language learners.
Wisconsin Literacy's regional map
Wisconsin Literacy’s regional map

 

  • Early literacy: This list can help you find a Reach Out and Read program in your county. Contact your local clinic and ask what volunteer opportunities are available.  

Volunteers can assist clinic staff with:

  • Book ordering, sorting and labeling
  • Hosting a fundraising event in your community to raise money for the clinic’s new book purchases for well-child visits ages 6 months to 5 years
  • Organizing a book drive to collect gently-used books appropriate for any age
    • Our book guidelines provide helpful tips about which types of books are acceptable
    • Collaborate with schools, churches, community groups and workplaces
  • Help create a literacy-rich environment by donating:
    • New bookcases or child-sized furniture (benches, tables, chairs)
    • A story time rug
    • Children’s or parenting magazines
    • Bulletin boards or other displays
  • Become a volunteer reader
    • Keep in mind not all clinics can accommodate volunteer readers and there may be an extensive volunteer screening process

 

  • Offer to read aloud at your child’s school or at the local library. Not only will you get to spend more quality time with them but you will also help their peers succeed too.
    Kids in library setting with books
    Volunteer with kids and help them learn important literacy skills

    Advocate for literacy:

  • Even though it may not be an election year, contacting your state and federal representative to talk about the importance of literacy is always relevant.
    • To find your representative, enter your address using this tool
    • For data specific to your county or region contact our office

Donate:

  • Looking to declutter? Give your much loved gently-used books to a friend, a child or a Little Free Library
Little Free Library near Milwaukee, WI
Little Free Library
  • If you live near Madison, WI the Madison Reading Project accepts book donations for children and teens. They share these books with non-profits, social workers, schools and shelters.

Do you support literacy in other ways? Comment below with your ideas. 

My Reach Out and Read program

Dr. Richard Strauss began the first Reach Out and Read program in Wisconsin in 1997.
Dr. Richard H. Strauss

In July 1997 the first Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin program and the 50th in the nation, was started at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center (now Gundersen Health System) in La Crosse. Nine months prior I had attended a workshop at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Boston and learned how to establish a ROR program. Dr. Perri Klass, the national medical director of ROR, showed us how to encourage literacy during well-child visits. She encouraged providers that a new, developmentally-appropriate book could be given to children along with anticipatory guidance to their parents at well child visits from 6 months through 5 years. I remember sitting in the workshop thinking, “what a terrific idea, program, mission, dream, reason to raise money, way to spend money and way to teach families the importance of books, reading and literacy.”

Fast forward 20 years and there are nearly 20 ROR sites in the La Crosse region, 200 in the state and 6,000 in the country. There are 100,000 additional books in the homes of thousands of children in the Coulee Region.

What do I like most about ROR? There are too many things to list but here are a few of my favorites: ROR has three main components, all of which take place in medical offices where children have well-child visits:

1. A literacy-rich waiting area without a TV; promotion of the public library and applications for library cards in the waiting area; and a supply of slightly used books which can be taken home

2. Developmental advice and counseling by doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants during the well-child visit

3. The gift of a new, developmentally-appropriate book to the child at well-child visits from 6 months to 5 years of age. ROR providers give up to 10 books to add or build a child’s home library. It is sad knowing those 10 books may be the only books in some households but at the same time, it can be wonderful, because 10 books are better than none, or one, or nine.

I love when a child arrives at the clinic remembering having received a customized book at their last visit (with their name and signed by their doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) and eager for a new book.

The prescription to read 20 minutes a day has no ill effects. How many other prescriptions come without potentially bad side effects?

Early childhood brain research shows nearly 80 percent of a child’s brain infrastructure is formed during the first 36 months of life. ROR-trained doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants discuss with parents the importance of talking, singing and reading aloud with young children. The first five years of a child’s life offer a critical window for brain development, and ROR seizes that opportunity in order to promote kindergarten readiness and future academic success.

Clinics with ROR programs now touch the lives of one in five Wisconsin children younger than 6 years of age in 54 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Parents involved with ROR are 2.5 times more likely to read to their children. Children’s language development is improved by three to six months in ROR families compared to their peers who have not been involved in ROR programs, and language ability increases with exposure to ROR. What is more rewarding than that?

In summary, ROR Wisconsin gives young children and their parents a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s newest addition

Welcome to the newest addition to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, our new blog, “Books Build Better Brains.” Through this platform we plan to offer tips, tools and resources for anyone looking to encourage reading and early learning in our youngest children.

The tagline Books Build Better Brains was created years ago by our Medical Director, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD. We believe it is the perfect blog title because reading books aloud positively impacts everything from language and socio-emotional development and school readiness, to buffering against toxic stress and fostering healthy relationships.

While our early literacy program is implemented in primary care medical clinics (you can read more about our program here) we are excited about our ability to use this venue to expand our audience. Early literacy and learning is not limited to only one environment. Learning language and developing literacy skills, the building blocks of kindergarten readiness, can happen anywhere; during breakfast, in the car, while grocery shopping or in your doctor’s office. Our goal is to empower and support parents and families in their role as a child’s first teacher.

Our blog will provide a variety of resources, including tips for reading aloud with young children and ways to make learning fun. We will share firsthand accounts from clinics and their medical staff about why they enjoy working with Reach Out and Read. We will analyze timely research and relevant data in the fields of early brain and child development so you are equipped with knowledge to support early learning wherever and whenever you can make it happen. We look forward to introducing you to many of our partners across the state and the nation who inspire our work every day.

We love our collaboration with the Appleton Public Library and thank their physician liaison, Abbey Unruh for this book list. This list is helpful for clinics when ordering books or for families visiting their local public library. We plan on sharing other book lists like this in the future. We hope you find a title to share as a bedtime story tonight.

Favorite books to read aloud for ages birth to 5 years