Reach Out and Read Wisconsin welcomes national medical director Perri Klass, MD

Reach Out and Read national medical director Perri Klass, MD, recently visited Madison, Wisconsin to give a presentation to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin supporters and stakeholders. During this talk at the Madison Central Library, Dr. Klass emphasized the importance of using books to promote healthy brain development in young children. One of the ways reading aloud supports brain development is through the parent-child relationship. “If we want to promote healthy child development in the early years, then we have to promote that parent-child relationship,” said Dr. Klass.

Books aid in the development of the parent-child relationship because they spark back-and-forth conversations. These conversational turns are what form connections in babies’ brains. Even young babies who are not themselves talking yet, show signs of engagement when these back-and-forth interactions are happening. Examples of this include, smiling at a book or the parent, looking at the pictures, reaching out to grab the book, trying to turn pages, cooing or babbling along with the story, or even trying to put the book in their mouth.

When parents read aloud they are not only helping foster brain development but development in all kinds of areas, like math, language, vocabulary, socio-emotional, school readiness and attachment.

Dr. Perri Klass presents at Madison Public Library about the importance of books and reading aloud for healthy child development
Dr. Perri Klass shares the importance of books and reading aloud to an audience of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin supporters and stakeholders.

Screen time

Dr. Klass also shared her thoughts about screen time and e-readers. She recommended physical books for newborns and children younger than age 2. Physical books allow babies to touch, feel, learn how to turn pages and put books in their mouths – all of which are appropriate developmental milestones for young children. Screens and enhanced e-books (stories that make sounds when tapped or have animations) can be distracting for young babies. New research shows that when e-readers are used, the number of conversational turns and back-and-forth interactions between parents and children decrease. Dr. Klass recently wrote about this new research in her weekly New York Times column.

When kids are older, using electronic reading devices can help them gain access to a wide range of information. However, it is still important for parents to provide supervision and make time for reading physical books aloud together.  

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin would like to thank Dr. Perri Klass for sharing her time and expertise. Also, thank you to the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters and the Madison Public Library for co-presenting this event. To learn more about Reach Out and Read Wisconsin and how to support us our work, please visit our website.

Wisconsin Medical Society provides books and grants to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

ROR project manager Karin Mahony and Wisconsin Medical Society stand with books that were donated in 2017

Since the founding of Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Medical Society (WMS) has graciously donated hundreds of new books and has provided funding to ROR Wisconsin to make our work possible. WMS is a policy leader and professional development resource for physicians across the state. They are a unified voice for physicians and their mission is to improve the health of people in Wisconsin. Through their grants and book drives to ROR Wisconsin, WMS is advancing its mission by helping to improve the lives of children and families across the state.

With grant funds provided by WMS, ROR clinics have been able to purchase 17,800 new books. These books are given to grateful children across the state during their well-child exams. ROR providers use these books in their exam rooms as tools to measure developmental milestones. This makes the visits more efficient and fun. At the end of the visit, each child 6 months – 5 years leaves the clinic with a new book in hand. Families are encouraged to read every day and enjoy these books over and over again.

Additionally, for the past two years, WMS staff has hosted a book drive to purchase and collect new books that are given to ROR Wisconsin. Since 2017, 275 books have been donated. Most of these books are purchased by WMS staff at Books4School, a local Madison retailer with books for children of all ages. Books4School is open to the public and has books for as low as $1.00!

With the support from WMS, our work is able to continue. We are able to train more providers, launch more programs, assist in maintaining high-quality programs and provide books for children across the state.  We are grateful for WMS’s mission and the generosity they’ve shown ROR Wisconsin!

ROR project manager Karin Mahony and Wisconsin Medical Society stand with books that were donated in 2017
ROR Wisconsin Project Manager Karin Mahony with WMS staff picking up the books donated by WMS.

To our clinics, providers and families affected by last month’s storms, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin is thinking of you

Dear Reach Out and Read Wisconsin family,
 
On behalf of the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin team, I am sending thoughts to everyone in the state dealing with the aftermath of the unprecedented storms in August and September.
 
We have been thinking of you and your communities throughout the last month as we heard of torrential rains, floods, road washouts, mudslides, evacuations, sheer winds and tornadoes in multiple areas of the state. We know that several of our participating clinics were flooded, along with their entire towns. Superficial cleanup has been astounding, but real recovery will take time.
 
Perhaps, now, you have a few extra moments to let us know your situation and needs:

  • Were your clinics damaged?
  • Did you lose book inventory?
  • Do you have many families who lost homes, including all the books in their homes?
  • Will your usual book funding sources be diverted to emergency relief efforts?
  • How are the children in your community faring?
    • We know of at least one school system that delayed the start of school – acknowledging that the children were too traumatized by loss of homes and sense of normalcy to focus on academics.

Please remind your families that books not only build better brains, they build better bonds. Sharing stories, even without a book in hand, develops and reinforces strong, comforting, nurturing parent-child relationships. These relationships act as protective shields for children living through natural disaster.
 
Reach Out and Read Wisconsin functions on an extremely tight budget. However, what we lack in a financial cushion, we make up for in the strength of our collaborative network, interest in sharing your stories and unstoppable, creative, problem-solving energies.
 
Please tell us of your needs and/or send pictures if possible. We may be able to offer some assistance.
 
Here’s wishing for a month of clearer skies.
 
Karin Mahony and the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin team

graphic of books

An Epic donation

Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin recently received more than 1,200 books thanks to Epic’s annual book drive in Madison. Our staff will distribute these new and gently-used books across Wisconsin as we travel to clinics for site visits. This is Epic’s fourth annual book drive to benefit ROR Wisconsin.

The new books will be prescribed and given to children by their medical provider at well-child visits from 6 months to 5 years. The gently-used books will help clinics expand their literacy-rich environment as they can be kept in waiting areas or exam rooms for families to enjoy while they are waiting to see the provider. Gently-used books can also be used to supplement the new books and they make great gifts for older siblings who visit the clinic with a ROR-aged brother or sister.

If you are interested in hosting a book drive for a ROR Wisconsin clinic near you, please contact Alex Rogers at arogers@chw.org or (608) 442-4175. Clinics accept books for kids of all ages, but we do ask that you screen donated books before dropping them off at a clinic. Please use our book guidelines when screening and sorting donations.

We would like to thank book drive coordinators Kate Parr and Adrienne Kiser and all the generous Epic employees who donated books. ROR Wisconsin is very grateful for our continued partnership with Epic and we know our clinics and families appreciate these books.

Two Epic employees with their donation of books to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin
Thank you Epic employees for your generous donation to ROR Wisconsin!

Reading programs are really about supporting strong parent-child bonds

This article was originally published by the Cap Times on April 23, 2018.

Toddler at well-child visits at doctor's office receiving a book from her provider. Reading programs often are supporting of parents and children.
PHOTO BY COBURN DUKEHART — WISCONSIN CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

Recently, I encountered a new-to-Wisconsin mother and toddler who had left behind a not-so-good environment. As we established trust with one another, it came out that she was concerned about her child’s mild speech delay. The upheaval in their lives meant they hadn’t been able to find a primary care clinic and schedule his regular checkups yet. What could I do that might offer some immediate benefit for them?

As many know, I do a lot of work around early literacy promotion. In the last few weeks, there have been two relevant, notable studies released in this field. The first article is a meta-analysis — a combining of several studies together — showing interventions in parent-child shared reading have clear benefits, not just to the child’s language and literacy skills (we’ve known this for some time), but also psychosocially. There were better social and emotional skills and improved behavior in the children. Less expected was the benefit to parents, who had less stress, less anxiety, and greater confidence in their ability to parent.

The second study was on the Video Interaction Project (created by an NYU friend and colleague, Dr. Alan Mendelsohn). It uses video recording of a parent playing and reading with their child, followed by watching the recording together with a parenting coach who points out notable moments in the interaction. The researchers found decreases in child aggression, hyperactivity, and difficulty with attention.

These both support the value of working on early literacy skills, the foundation of the almost-30-year-old Reach Out and Read program, which makes discussion about early literacy an integral and routine part of checkups in early childhood. (Note: I am the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, and serve on the national board.)

However, I’d like to point out that these studies emphasize a critical element that’s not always present in the countless literacy programs out there. While you may view Reach Out and Read as a child literacy program, it’s really secretly a parenting program: a program designed to gently and collaboratively support strong shared reading between a parent and a child.

I don’t object to programs that bring high-quality books into a child’s home, but that emphasis is often misplaced; the book itself does little if handed to a child without any other interaction. A child learns the magic and power of reading only when a loving, nurturing, responsive caregiver (usually a parent, but could be anyone) reads aloud with them. A book that sits on the shelf is useless — it only does its magic when open in the hands of a parent and child reading together.

Equally important is a parent who knows how to read effectively to a young, squirmy toddler, a technique known as dialogic reading. Simply reading at a child doesn’t work for a child with a naturally short attention span. Knowing how to read with them and interact is an important learned skill. Merely providing books accomplishes only part of the job — supporting parenting confidence is absolutely essential.

It’s not just about the books. It’s about the act of reading together. A book without a caring adult…is just a book.

The key point: Parents benefit most when we offer clear modeling, coaching and encouragement. It’s not enough to say what to do; careful intentional skill-building is crucial for success. This explains the incredible outcomes seen from high-quality home visiting programs, for example. So question projects and recognize that they are not all the same. Ask yourself if they merely provide resources or whether they are building capabilities or capacities in families

So what of the family I encountered? I took the board book we had given him and pointed out her child’s brief interactions with the book. Then I modeled talking about illustrations and I reassured her that his turning away quickly was just his normal short attention span. Finally, I complimented her on her good parenting when she described how he would bring a book to her and “ask” to be read to.

She beamed with pride. And that’s how I knew we were doing right by her.

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

Papers, pixels and pediatrics

This article was originally published by the Cap Times on Nov. 6, 2017

Recently, a colleague asked me about whether there was a difference between reading a book on a screen versus a paper page. People do worry about all sorts of concerns — light from screens, fine motor skill development, reading comprehension, and more. Many of these stem from an underlying technophobia — or technophilia, as it may be. What does the research tell us?

There are published studies which formally examine the difference, and the results seem to be all over the place. Some suffer from small sample sizes, or look only at very specific domains — comprehension, or interactional parent/child “warmth”, or mastery of a specific skill. There’s also a big difference looking at toddlers versus preschoolers versus elementary schoolchildren; they are at very different places in the world of reading. Additionally, many are adult studies, and may not apply to children. The reality is that, based on the available research, we just don’t yet know if there are significant meaningful differences.

I’m asked this question frequently when I give talks about early literacy, and I try to give at least some amount of guidance. My answer is as follows: To a certain extent, I think that text is text, whether it’s being viewed as ink on the dried wood pulp that we call pages or glowing pixels on a screen. There are a few key caveats, though:

First, the research is mixed on whether use of backlit screens can impact sleep. Melatonin is a hormone involved in initiation of sleep, and it is affected by light exposure, particularly certain wavelengths. While television has been in our collective lives for decades, those screens are a few feet away, rather than the several inches of most portable devices. However, while studies of close-in light use may affect melatonin, does typical real-world use do so? It’s hard to know as of yet. Until there’s better clarity on this, avoiding glowing screens at least an hour before bedtime is reasonable.

Second, most books for young children involve skillfully created images. Ensuring a screen is high-quality enough to allow the beauty of the images to be displayed is important and shouldn’t be compromised. Illustrations are as much part of the story as the text.

Third, there is a danger of a slippery slope when it comes to electronic devices — even young children often know devices can not only provide a Caldecott-award-winning picture book, but also offer up games. It’s hard for parents to resist a young child’s demands for the attention-grabbing nature of games — after all, marketing cereals to children is predicated on them throwing tantrums in the supermarket for a particular kind — with a high risk of displacing the intention to share books together…night after night.

Finally, there’s the danger of thinking the enhancements offered by e-books are necessarily an improvement over physical books. A parent might assume having a cow moo when tapped on a screen is inherently better than the silent paper equivalent. But is it? If that moo is not essential to the narrative or structure of the book, it may simply be a distractor. Children who become attuned to the “tap-and-make-something-happen” dynamic may ignore much of what is on displayed pages in favor of tapping everything on the screen in an attempt to “make it go”.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how the book is used. Assuming due care is exercised with the above points, for young children the most important factor is the presence of a caring, nurturing, responsive adult who understands how to interactively explore a book with a young child. This may be a skill unconsciously picked up by the adult through environmental role models, but for some they may require modeling, coaching, and the encouragement to do so. Rather than become lost in the electronic versus paper book wars, we would do well to ensure that each and every child has an adult in their lives who knows how to read well with them and can do so routinely.

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. He shares research regarding kids reading physical books and on electronic device.
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin