Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Advisory Council Member spotlight: Family Physician Wendy Molaska, MD, FAAFP

The Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin Advisory Council is made up of 14 individuals from across the state who support our early literacy work. The Advisory Council includes, doctors, community leaders and business owners. These members all have a connection to and passion for literacy and the lifelong benefits programs like ROR provide. For a full list of our advisory council members, visit our website.  

Our first member spotlight is one of our Advisory Council co-chairs, Wendy Molaska. Wendy is a family physician who has served on our council since ROR Wisconsin started in 2010. Prior to joining the Advisory Council, Wendy used ROR during her residency. She continues to use the program today as the ROR medical consultant for UW Health Cottage Grove. Now a mother of two, Wendy tries to find time every day to read aloud with her kids.

Mom reading with two childrendoctor dressed up as cat in the hat

What is your background?

I am a family medicine physician working in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Originally from Wisconsin, I went to undergrad and medical school at the University of Wisconsin. I was first introduced to ROR when I started residency at the University of Minnesota working in an underserved inner-city clinic. When I moved to rural Colorado, my clinic there did not have a ROR program so I started a program. I then moved back to rural Wisconsin and again my clinic did not have a ROR program. By now, I couldn’t imagine practicing without the program, so I did all the fundraising myself and started yet another ROR program at my clinic in Platteville. Shortly after I started my program ROR Wisconsin started and I was honored to be asked to join the Advisory Council.

What are your favorite or funniest memories about reading as a child?

My dad would often read my brother and I bedtime stories. But before he started the book he would always tell his own version of a fairy tale. So we listened to Mac and the Cornstalk and Little Red Riding Hood. Except that in his version, Little Red Riding Hood was crossing the road and ‘Vrooom!’ a big Mack truck came and ran her over and that’s the end of the story! Then my brother and I would yell and complain say, “Daaad! That’s not a real story!” So then he’d be forced to read our book of the night.

If you have children, do you read aloud with them? How did you incorporate reading into your routine?

I have two young children and am a proud Reach Out and Read mama, as my kids love to read! We started reading to them as soon as they were born. We read before naps and bedtimes every day and whenever the kids want to read. They will often grab books during play times and bring them over to us to read. We went through periods where the kids would choose the same book over and over so I can still recite verbatim some of those books. Now they love to go to the library to pick out new books which means I get to read more variety. And it certainly is fun for the kids when they make me read The Book With No Pictures. “Glug, glug, glug, my face is a bug! I eat ants for breakfast right off the rug!

young girl reading and sleeping in the carpicture of young boy reading in the car and sleeping

How did you get involved with literacy promotion? Why is it important to you?

I first became involved with literacy promotion through the ROR program in residency. My residency clinic was an inner city clinic and the patient population faced a lot of adversity. It was also a diverse patient population with Spanish, Hmong and Somali languages being common, in addition to English. During that time I saw how important books were for the patients. I also learned how important it was to discuss how to use books in the home as many parents did not have confidence in their own reading abilities but did want their children to do well in school. It was in stark contrast to how I grew up, as I was surrounded by books and loved going to the Book Mobile to pick out new books. The joke among my relatives was that my nickname was “Nose-in-a-book” and they didn’t know what I looked like because my face was always stuck in a book. This helped propel me to want to share the magic of books with others.

What advice would you give parents about reading?

The most important thing I talk about with parents in my clinic is that reading is not just about actually reading the words on the page. This is especially true with young children. The most important part of reading is spending the time together enjoying each other’s company and enjoying books. That can mean making up stories based on the pictures, using the pictures to play ‘I spy’ or even just having the child point to different things on the page.

I also emphasize that toddlers have short attention spans so even if they only seem to sit and pay attention for a minute or two that is actually great.

For older kids, I discuss with parents that reading can entail all kinds of different options. As kids develop their own interests, reading can be tailored to those interests. If that means comic books, non-fiction, magazines or video game manuals – it still counts as reading!

Lastly, I encourage parents to lead by example whenever they can. Being able to see a parent reading is important to showing children that reading is important all throughout our lives!

young children reading together

What is your favorite children’s book? Why?

This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many great children’s books! I love Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boyton just because who wouldn’t love hippos going berserk!

Hippos_go_berserk book cover

I love The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Any of his books are great, even if many are tongue twisters! But The Lorax has such a great underlying message about taking care of the earth that it is timeless.

the lorax book cover

And I love The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak because it makes my kids giggle when mom has to say “My best friend is a hippo named boo-boo butt!”

the book with no pictures book cover

What is the best book you’ve read recently?

A book I will never tire of and have read more than a dozen times,A Girl in the Limberlost book cover is A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. This is more of a young adult book but the way it is written brings the imagery to life.

 

 

 

 

 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is how I imagine I would write if I wrote a novel, eat_pray_love book coverpoints in time, often centuries apart. and I could intimately relate to this book. My current favorite authors are Ken Follett as I love historical fiction and his long tomes span many years really drawing you into the lives of his characters. Kate Morton’s books are also outstanding. She has a unique way of weaving her stories together using perspectives from different

 

 

Lastly, I will recommend Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Being mortal book coverby Atul Gwande. Most people don’t really understand what can happen at the end of life and this book really can provide perspective on what this can look like. As I always encourage my patients to have these difficult end-of-life discussions with their family and friends, this book helps the reader understand why these difficult conversations are important. Reading is the generally the last thing I do as I wind down my days.

 

And lucky for me, my ‘to read list’ continues to grow and grow.

Unique way to support Reach Out and Read Wisconsin this week

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin (ROR) is excited to have been chosen by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) as their spring membership drive’s thank you gift. When you make a monthly pledge of $10 or more to WPR, you are eligible to select the ROR thank you gift, which provides three new, high quality and developmentally appropriate books for young children throughout Wisconsin. The drive runs from Tuesday through Saturday this week.

4 reasons why you should donate this week:

  • ROR Wisconsin programs work with kids ages 6 months to 5 years. Providing books during this time delivers the most impact because it’s when their brains are growing most rapidly! 95% of the brain is developed by age 6.
  • Support medical providers as they build parents’ skills by talking about practical ways to read aloud with their kids and early literacy’s impact on future development.
  • ROR Wisconsin’s impact is statewide so the books you buy will help communities throughout Wisconsin.
  • WPR typically spends 10% of your donation on thank you gifts. By selecting the ROR thank you gift, WPR is only spending 6.7% of your donation. This means more of your money stays with WPR to help support high quality radio programming.

Donate to WPR and give books to kids through Reach Out and Read. Your gift makes a difference

Interested in making a pledge? Click here. Thank you.

To learn more about ROR Wisconsin and the impact of our work, please visit our website.

Reaching Out Beyond the Clinic Setting

Dr. Michelle Hill pediatrician at the Prevea West De Pere Health Center
Dr. Michelle Hill pediatrician at the Prevea West De Pere Health Center

Reach Out and Read (ROR) has been one of the most fun and helpful additions to our pediatric practice at Prevea Health. The response from families and children who are receiving our books at their visits is so overwhelmingly positive. We wanted to work on even more ways to integrate this program, not only into our health centers, but also into our community.

Prevea Health has sponsored a children’s play area at Bay Park Square Mall in Green Bay for a few years. This play area is partially enclosed, with little slides and play pieces for kids to climb on. In brainstorming ways to best utilize that space, we felt it would be a great place to expand our messaging about the importance of families reading aloud with their children. Not only would we get to have fun interactions with children in the community, but also we would have the chance to promote the importance of early literacy promotion and model engaging reading behavior.

The mall is a central location to our patient population in Green Bay, which means we can reach people throughout the whole community. This includes children who may not see Prevea Pediatricians and who do not benefit from the ROR program in the clinic setting. It also offers families in the community something fun and educational to do, especially during the winter months in Wisconsin!

Prevea Pediatrics and the mall tried to find a way to incorporate story telling along with play time. Knowing how active children can be and that sometimes sitting still for a story is a challenge, we decided it would be a good idea to add some structured play to these events. This would give the children a chance to get their wiggles out before the story. Then, we could settle right in the middle of the play area to read several books.

Prevea Read and Play

We decided to call the event Prevea Read and Play, featuring our pediatricians or child life specialists reading books for the storytime portion. I find it important for the pediatricians to participate in the reading, in part, because it’s just fun to do, but also because I think it magnifies the message of how important reading is when parents see a doctor taking time out of their day to read to children. It also takes us out of the clinical setting and more into the real world of these families and shows them again that reading is a key part of childhood development. I also feel it’s important for children to know that reading is fun and exciting, so this is one more way to keep them interested in new stories.

As of now, this is a monthly program and the community response has been very positive. I participated in our most recent story time in March, around the time of Dr. Seuss Week. After doing some movement activities with the children at the play area, I read two Dr. Seuss stories to about a dozen children of various ages. Some of them had heard the stories before and were eager to chime in about trying Green Eggs and Ham or capturing Thing 1 and Thing 2. We were also able to take a moment to talk about trying different foods because you just might like them, like at the end of Green Eggs and Ham. I was very impressed with the children’s level of attention during my reading. They were all very engaged, even the younger ones who may not have been as interested in these longer stories.

The parents also seemed to enjoy watching storytime and taking a break from chasing their children around the play area. Some of the people attending this Read and Play were repeat visitors who knew about the storytime, but many happened to be passing by and stopped or were pleasantly surprised when they came to play.

After we finished reading, our child life specialist led the children on a fun scavenger hunt through the play area to get them up and moving again. They were able to find various objects like a teddy bear or a stethoscope. Then, they each were rewarded with a certificate and a ROR bookmark to finish up our Prevea Read and Play event. Literature was also available for the parents regarding the ROR program and our Prevea Pediatricians.

Overall, it was a very fun morning at the mall and another great way to expand reading farther into our community. I do think seeing reading in action from a physician sends a great message to our families and I am glad ROR has given us even more encouragement to send that message.

Information table at Prevea Read and Play with information about Reach Out and Read and Prevea Health
Information table at Prevea Read and Play

A day with the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin staff

With more than 210 Reach Out and Read (ROR) programs statewide our three staff, plus our medical director, stay busy. Whether we are visiting clinics, fundraising, giving presentations or assisting in building community partnerships, we are committed to promoting early literacy throughout Wisconsin.

ROR Wisconsin is a state affiliate of the national ROR organization. Since 2010, our office has helped launch more than 155 programs. We help clinics start their program, provide ongoing support (fundraising and technical assistance), quality assurance and books. However, working with clinics is just one piece of what we do.

Karin Mahony, MEd, MSW, Project Manager

Karin Mahony, our project manager, oversees all aspects of our work and is our resident fundraiser. Working with staff in our foundation office, she applies for grants, meets with potential and current funders, searches for new funding opportunities and provides book support to clinics in Wisconsin. If you have ever been to one of our annual meetings and had the chance to attend her fundraising breakout session, you will quickly learn why she has been so successful over the last seven years. Karin knows it is more than raising money, it is about building relationships with donors and organizations. She tells the story of ROR Wisconsin in a compelling and motivating way. “When I first started at ROR Wisconsin I had enough funds for my salary and some for clinics, everything else I had to fundraise for.” Our ability to grow our team while also becoming the seventh largest affiliate in the country, is proof of her success.

Project Manager Karin Mahony reading a book for her monthly book club
Karin reading for her monthly book club

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Medical Director

Dipesh Navsaria is many things; a pediatrician, occasional children’s librarian, associate professor of pediatrics at UW Health’s School of Medicine and Public Health, child health advocate and founding medical director of ROR Wisconsin. Regardless of all these roles, on a weekly basis Dr. Navsaria travels around the state and country giving presentations about the importance of reading for brain development. He is a tireless advocate and promoter of our work and one of the reasons we believe our number of participating clinics has risen so quickly. He engages, motivates and educates people about how setting aside time each day to read aloud will have a positive, lasting impact.  For these presentations, he directs all honorariums to ROR Wisconsin, which provides us with unrestricted funds we can use for program supplies and special projects.

Medical Director Dipesh Navsaria speaking at a local event
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD speaking at a Wisconsin Medical Society event

Amber Bloom, MSW, CAPSW, Project Coordinator

Amber Bloom, joined our team in January 2017. Amber works in the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin Milwaukee office and assists clinics in the eastern part of the state. She conducts site visits, helps clinics wanting to develop new programs and manages our quality assurance efforts. She analyzes and prepares data from the parent literacy orientation survey to share with participating clinics. The purpose of this survey is to show any change in parents’ literacy behaviors after their clinic starts a ROR program. This data is then shared with clinics at site visits to show their impact within the community.

Amber’s background is in child welfare and she says, “I really appreciate the aspect of prevention that ROR provides. It offers families the opportunity to thrive through creating a nurturing environment at home, building parent skills and getting children ready for success in school. I’m glad to have a part in making those things happen.

young girl and parent reading aloud

 

Recent photo of Amber Bloom
Project Coordinator Amber Bloom MSW, CAPSW

Alex Rogers, Project Coordinator

Alex Rogers, joined the ROR team in January 2016 and works with clinics in the central part of the state, assisting with the application process and providing ongoing support. She also manages our marketing and communications, particularly with the launch and operation of this blog. She oversees our social media posts, annual program update and email campaigns. Each fall, she plans and organizes the annual meeting as an opportunity for ROR clinics and early literacy advocates to come together for education and networking. Alex enjoys working for ROR Wisconsin because it combines her love of reading and desire to help improve everyday life for children and families.

young girl reading in laundry basket

 

 

girl with favorite children's book Corduroy
Project Coordinator Alex Rogers “reading” when she was young and more recently with her favorite children’s book, Corduroy

ROR Wisconsin is the early literacy initiative of Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, which is affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Being part of this larger organization not only provides us with infrastructure funding, but support in communications, graphic design, website, data analysis and strategic planning. All this allows our staff to devote the majority of our time to the programmatic needs of our clinics.

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.

Project Manager update

At the end of each year, I think, “Wow, what a busy year.” This, our seventh year, has been no exception.

This year, we have been busy with:

  • Welcoming, and training Amber Bloom, MSW, who works directly with clinics on the eastern side of the state
  • Visiting 100 clinics throughout the state
  • Launching this blog, Books Build Better Brains
  • Keeping track of our medical director, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, who gave more than 40 presentations this year, in Wisconsin and 11 other states
  • Organizing and leading our annual meeting, now with 100 attendees, one third of which are medical providers
  • Organizing three legislator/state leader visits to ROR clinics
  • Beginning the collection of our post-intervention parent literacy orientation surveys
  • Assisting 30 clinics in launching ROR programs
  • Submitting 10 grants/requests for funding (six were funded)
  • Attending and presenting at the ROR National Center Leadership Meeting
  • Providing more than 24,000 books in support to 61 clinics
  • Offering strategic planning consultation to two other state affiliates
  • Serving on ROR National Center’s book and network advisory committees

This year, we are especially proud of:

We are consistently grateful for:

  • The amazing clinic staff we work with who volunteer their time to provide parenting support and early literacy promotion faithful to the ROR model
  • Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, which provides us a home, infrastructure support and ongoing guidance
  • ROR National Center staff who cultivate national partners to further the work of early literacy promotion, provide training, resources and support to affiliate staff
  • Our funders, early literacy champions and individual donors who share our passion for children and literacy and without whose support none of the above would have been possible

Infographic showing Reach Out and Read Wisconsin's 2017 highlights part of project manager update

 

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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

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.