Encouraging Children's Literacy in Your Practice


Providing free books to your youngest patients can improve literacy and patient satisfaction.

Fam Pract Manag. 2016 May-June;23(3):20-22.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

How do we as family physicians benefit not only the health outcomes of the children we serve but also their broader development? How can we help position our young patients to succeed as they enter and go through school? And how can we do these things while providing essential family medicine care? I (Dr. Reddy) have been a family physician for 23 years, serving communities in Salinas, Calif. For much of that time, I have integrated literacy promotion efforts in my daily practice that have accomplished both of these goals.

Why? The health benefits to young children are clear. Reading aloud to children during infancy supports cognitive development and strengthens parent-child relationships, in addition to profoundly influencing language development through childhood and even long-term literacy.1,2 (See “Children's literacy facts.”) But I have found that integrating a reading program that actually gives children books during their visits benefits my work as well.

First, a little bit about the program I use: In most communities there are organized efforts to promote children's literacy. Some work specifically with medical practices. I use Reach Out and Read (ROR), which is among the most well known. ROR was founded more than 25 years ago and promotes early literacy and school readiness to young children and their families at almost 5,000 program sites in all 50 states. It trains and encourages practices to advise parents on the importance of reading and to provide developmentally and culturally appropriate books at every well-child visit. (See “Reach Out and Read.”)


The Reach Out and Read model has been evaluated rigorously in 15 peer-reviewed studies,1 which show the following:

  • Significantly improved language development at 24 months,2

  • Increased likelihood of parents to read with their child regularly and to report that their child has a more positive attitude toward reading,

  • Increased parent-child interactions and reading activities at home,

  • Reduced electronic media exposure among infants.3

Note: These studies were conducted among populations at higher risk of reading failure, including low-income and immigrant families.


1. Zukerman B. Promoting early literacy in pediatric practice: twenty years of reach out and read. Pediatrics. 2009;124(6):1660-1665.

2. High PC, LaGasse L, Becker S, Ahlgren I, Gardner A. Literacy promotion in primary care pediatrics: can we make a difference? Pediatrics. 2000;105(4 Pt 2):927-934.

3. Mendelsohn AL, Dreyer BP, Brockmeyer CA, Berkule-Silberman SB, Huberman HS, Tomopoulos S. Randomized controlled trial of primary care pediatric parenting programs: effect on reduced media exposure in infants, mediated through enhanced parent-child interaction. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(1):42-48 .

In our practice, during the first visit when the child is 6 months old, and increasingly even at 4 months, I explain to the parents what

About the Authors

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Dr. Reddy is a practicing family physician with Acacia Family Medical Group in Salinas, Calif....

Bhavya Reddy is a public health researcher at the Ramalingaswami Centre on Equity and Social Determinants of Health in Bangalore, India.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.



1. Council on Early Childhood, High PC, Klass P. Literacy promotion: an essential component of primary care pediatric practice. Pediatrics. 2014;134(2):404–409. http://bit.ly/1po6hF7. Accessed March 29, 2016.

2. Duursma E, Augustyn M, Zuckerman B. Reading aloud to children: the evidence. Arch Dis Child. 2008;93(7):554–557.

3. Early reading proficiency in the United States: a Kids Count data snapshot. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation; 2014. http://bit.ly/1wy7ePe. Accessed March 29, 2016.


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