Reach Out and Read + COVID-19: Dr. Leyla Hamizadeh Explains Virtual Well-Child Visits

Dr. Hamizadeh

The image of a well-child visit with your child’s provider is simple: you go to the clinic, the provider provides anticipatory guidance and advice, checks your child’s developmental progress and whether they need any immunizations, and you take care of any additional follow-up as needed. But because of COVID-19, these visits have looked much different.

Leyla Hamizadeh, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin, conducted well-child visits virtually as Wisconsin’s Safer-At-Home order was in place. The visits may have looked different and involved no physical contact, but the information covered and messages given to families remained just as important.

“We’ve never done virtual visits prior to the pandemic, so it was definitely something new,” Dr. Hamizadeh said. “For our visits we covered topics such as concerns the parent might have, nutrition, sleep, vaccines the child was due for, the importance of reading while at home and more.”

Dr. Hamizadeh conducted well-child visits for children ages 4 to 18 months via video chat or phone call and covered typical health topics. The video visits allowed Dr. Hamizadeh to see the children and help out parents by answering questions and providing information and encouragement.

While pediatric primary care clinics begin to transition back to in-person appointments, one of the key messages remain strong: the importance of promoting early literacy.

“Many children are learning at home as schools and childcare centers remain closed, and it’s crucial to limit screen time and continue reading,” explains Dr. Hamizadeh. “Reading to young children helps them with cognitive development, but it can act as a breath of fresh air for parents, too.”

“We promote daily reading from an early age to help language development and to help children learn to have a life-long love of reading. Reading is especially important now because there’s elevated levels of stress for both parents and children, and reading is a great way to reduce that stress while creating a stronger bond between children and parents.”

Starting and ending a day with reading can guarantee that the day will both begin and end in a positive way.  In uncertain times, reading with children is a way to produce smiles, laughs and creativity in otherwise stressful situations.

Dr. Hamizadeh also wants parents to know that it’s OK to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It’s OK to not meet every expectation, it’s OK to not keep a regular scheduled every day and it’s OK to take some time for yourself.

When many things feel confusing and stressful, reading a book to a child is a much needed, sweet escape. As Children’s Wisconsin begins to transition back to in-person visits, Dr. Hamizadeh is looking forward to one thing that she’s missed so dearly: Handing a book to a smiling, young child.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin by the Numbers

266: Participating clinics in Wisconsin

1,850: Participating medical providers

159,000: Children served

235,000: New books distributed

How to hold a book drive

A book drive is a great way to collect new and high-quality, gently-used books for a Reach Out and Read program. It also is a wonderful way to bring a community or organization together for a purposeful goal. The books collected will end up in the hands of eager children who participate in Reach Out and Read at a local clinic.  

I am a UW-Madison student and founder of a student organization that works with Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. Below is information about our recent UW-Madison campus-wide book drive event – why we hosted it, who was involved and what we did to organize and promote the drive.

book drive signs

Posters made for the campus book drive


As an eight-year volunteer for Reach Out and Read programs in the Milwaukee area, I was ecstatic to continue my early literacy promotion work as a UW-Madison student. In early 2017, I started a campus chapter for Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, called Badgers Reach Out and Read. It is made up of undergraduate and graduate students who work together to help the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin through volunteering, fundraising and helping to collect literacy materials.

November 3 through December 8, 2017, our organization hosted a campus-wide book drive on Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s behalf. The UW-Madison campus gave us a large platform in hopes of many donations.

Badgers Reach Out and Read members

A Badgers Reach Out and Read book drive planning meeting

How Badgers Reach Out and Read organized and promoted the drive

Five building locations with attractive and visible signage

A key part of our book drive included finding campus drop-off locations for the donated books. We wanted to find donation spots that were well-known and in high-traffic areas. This way, not only would donors easily find a place to drop off their books, but prospective donors walking through a collection-site building would see the signage and be encouraged to participate.

The donation spots for our book drive included five campus buildings: Bascom Hall, Union South, the School of Business, Teacher Education Building and the Speech and Hearing Clinic (Goodnight Hall).

collection bins for reach out and read book drive

Social media image used to advertise the five drop-off locations

Permission to use these buildings as drop-off locations was obtained through email and in-person communications with respective building supervisors – all of whom were extremely helpful.

After talking with the building supervisors, it was discovered that not only did these buildings receive a lot of traffic from students, staff and the public but four of the buildings represented separate departments. These departments each had student organizations we could partner with for the book drive.

The UW-Madison campus spans about 936 acres. Geographically dispersed donation sites were strategically chosen as a way to bring the large campus together. Having involvement from multiple student organizations also allowed us to have more control over the collection of donated books, as no single student organization could be in all places at once.

For the buildings that did not already have donation bins for us to use, we purchased heavy-duty gray bins. We then hung signs about the book drive over the bins to increase their visibility.

Five Student Organizations

To create a book drive that engaged campus-wide participation, enlisting the help of other student organizations and crossing academic majors and interests accomplished our goal of reaching a wider audience.

The four student organizations we partnered with included the Aspiring Educators organization, Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), Phi Sigma Pi Service Fraternity and the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA). These organizations combined a mix of literacy-based and service-based organizations.

These organizations promoted the book drive to their members through email, at bi-weekly meetings and hosting service events. During these service events, members could go “thrifting” together for gently used books or sort through books that that had already been gathered.

Many posters, emails, social media posts, shares, tagging, etc.!

Badgers Reach Out and Read members had fun creating beautiful posters to advertise the book drive.

Getting the word out about the book drive was key to the drive being a success. For us, this included sending out general book drive information and a map of donation spots in bi-weekly emails to our 200 student-member database. We encouraged our partnering student organizations to do the same.

We were grateful that many of the building supervisors also included information about the drive in emails to their building staff. This was especially important as many staff have children of their own or have access to children’s books more often than some college students would. The word even got out to local community organizations, and we were grateful for the books donated by The Neighborhood House Community Center of Madison.


badgers reach out and read book annoucement


 Email messages promoting the books drive included attractive and informational attachments.  



uw madison locations for badgers reach out and read book drive



 A campus map clearly showed book donation locations



We used our Badgers Reach Out and Read Facebook page to announce and post updates about the book drive. Chapter officers had fun posing with books and donation bins, creating Boomerang videos showing donation bins filled with books and tagging and thanking members or groups who donated.  Our aim was to engage people, hold interest in the drive and get the word out to as many people as possible during the month-long donation period.

We also created a Facebook event through which we could invite others to participate. This was helpful as our officers and members could invite individuals from all different circles.

We made sure to post more advertisements before and during UW-Madison’s Thanksgiving break. For students, this was a prime time when they could go back home to search for books or receive book donations from their home communities (people learned of the event through the Facebook event). For Madison staff and the general public, this was also a time when the business of work and school wound down enough to search for books to donate. A lot of books were donated after Thanksgiving break, and we are thankful for these donations.

The book drive collected 6,155 new and high-quality, gently-used books 

On December 8, Badgers Reach Out and Read officers finished collecting and sorting the donated books. To sort the books we followed the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin book guidelines.

A total of 6,155 children’s books were then packed into boxes and transported to the Interstate Books4School, which had graciously offered to store our books for Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. These books included many wonderful gently-used children’s books, as well as new books.

Many donations were of infant-level reading materials, but we also received reading materials that spanned up to age 12. Books for older children can be displayed for reading use in clinic waiting rooms and given to older siblings.

We are so grateful to all of the wonderful donations we received. This book drive would not have been such a success without the continual support from Madison community, students and staff – and of course, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin!

We hope that our journey can help others hold a book drive in their community for a local  Reach Out and Read clinic. Here’s to more book drives in the future and to getting more books into the hands of more children in need!

badgers reach out and read officers

                  Badger Reach Out and Read officers Kelly (left) unload boxes of books collected through the campus book drive

How to read aloud to kids younger than age 5

One of the best ways to support your child’s growth and development is to read aloud with them. It is especially important to start early, as research shows 85 percent of the brain is developed by age 3. The benefits of reading aloud are well documented and programs like Reach Out and Read (ROR) are supported by a large evidence-base. However, it can be intimidating to read with a squirmy 2 year old or to read aloud to kids who cannot yet talk themselves. Below are some tips to keep in mind when reading with young children.

Newborn to 6 months

Mom reading to newborn

  • Babies want to hear your voice. They will enjoy when you talk, sing or read with them
  • Make eye contact with your baby when possible
  • Point to different pictures and name what you see. Talk about the color, sizes, quantity and shapes of things you see
  • Babies will enjoy looking at books with other baby’s faces in them
  • Babies will not focus on a story the way an older child can. Do not get discouraged if they squirm or are not looking directly at the book. They are still listening
  • Babies enjoy high contrast books (black and white)
  • Incorporate books into daily routines like nap time, bed time and play time

Ages 6 to 12 months

Child's doctors appointment with book

  • Babies may chew on board books, this is how they explore and it is okay
  • Continue to name objects and pictures for your baby
  • Babies may point or pat pictures on page to show interest
  • Babies may say a few words like “ma”, “ba” and “da”
  • Books with few words are best

Ages 12 to 24 months

Parents reading a book to toddler

  • Children can turn board book pages on their own, let them help
  • Continue to name objects and pictures
  • Don’t be afraid to use silly voices or make sounds related to the story you are reading. Kids love this

Ages 2 to 3

  • Toddlers love to hear the same story again and again
  • Toddlers are learning two to four new words per day
  • As you read, ask questions about the story and talk about the pictures you see
  • Toddlers can turn paper pages, often two or three at a time

Ages 3 to 4

  • Children will sit still for longer stories
  • Continue to ask questions about the story. If reading a familiar story ask “what happens next”
  • Point out numbers and letters
  • Ask child what book they want to read or take them to the library to pick out books

Ages 4 to 5 

Young girl reading with doctor

  • Children recognizes letters and numbers
  • Help build your child’s social emotional skills by relating the story to their own experiences
  • Point out numbers and things to count in the story
  • Ask the child to tell you the story
  • Kids may want to explore books on their own, which is great. You can continue to ask questions about the stories and offer to read with them, when they want.

One final piece of advice, even if you only share a few minutes per day looking at books or reading aloud, it is okay. It is still time you are spending together and you are helping them make connections and learn.

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.

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!