Reach Out and Read

Encouraging Parents to Read to Children Is Focus of New Alliance

May 27, 2014 09:44 am Jessica Pupillo

Recognizing the importance of promoting early childhood literacy and language development, the AAFP has entered into an agreement with the Reach Out and Read National Center( The agreement names the Academy as a literacy partner of Reach Out and Read.

[Dad reading to his two young children]

"We know that reading aloud to children from an early age is important in their development of language skills, future literacy and, ultimately, school success," said Jennifer Frost, M.D., medical director for the AAFP Health of the Public and Science Division. "Yet, for a variety of reasons, many parents and caregivers don't read to their children regularly. Through the Reach Out and Read program, physicians provide developmentally appropriate books during the well-child visit and use this opportunity to discuss with the caregivers the many benefits of reading to their children.

"The American Academy of Family Physicians is excited about partnering with Reach Out and Read to promote this important message."

Boston-based Reach Out and Read is a national nonprofit organization that trains and supports medical professionals who -- during well-child visits -- give new books to children and advice to their parents about the importance of reading aloud. The program serves 4 million children, ages 6 months to 5 years, throughout the country each year, focusing on those in low-income families.

Story highlights
  • The AAFP has entered into an agreement with the Reach Out and Read National Center.
  • Reach Out and Read trains and supports medical professionals who give new books to children and advice to their parents about the importance of reading aloud.
  • The program aims to promote early childhood literacy and language development.

FPs as Reading Champions

"Read Out and Read is thrilled to establish an official alliance with the AAFP," said Brian Gallagher, the program's acting executive director. "Reach Out and Read's goal is to reach as many children as possible nationwide with this, our evidence-based early literacy intervention. Working through family physicians, we can reach even more children, especially those in rural areas."

Often the only primary care physicians practicing in many areas of the country, family physicians can leverage the relationships they have with entire families to encourage early literacy, Gallagher added.

"Reach Out and Read already works with many family physicians, and this new alliance offers us a stronger connection to build on our relationship with individual physicians and with family medicine," said Perri Klass, M.D., national medical director for Reach Out and Read. "As medical director, I have learned a great deal from our family medicine champions and look forward to strengthening these ties and reaching even more children and families through primary care health professionals whose perspective includes the health and well-being of children and their parents."

Reach Out and Read also has alliances with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

Making a Personal Connection

Frost was an active Reach Out and Read participant in her previous position as associate program director and director of women's services at Research Family Medicine Residency in Kansas City, Mo. For nine years, she taught residents about Reach Out and Read and also implemented the program with her own patients, who she said tended to be from high-risk populations.

"It was certainly a great way to talk to patients about the importance of reading early to improve literacy," Frost recalled. She said she used the program's books in the clinic to evaluate whether a child was meeting his or her literacy milestones, such as turning a book's pages or focusing on pictures. It also helped her gauge how interested parents were in books.

"If I have a mom who has no interest, throws the book in her bag, then I'm going to talk to that mom more about reading," Frost explained. Perhaps there are barriers to reading, or perhaps mom just doesn't understand how important reading is, she added. Identifying and overcoming such barriers can help build positive relationships with patients.

She recounted a story about a child she had delivered and then saw in her clinic for many years. "We gave him books and talked to his mom about reading at every visit through age 5," Frost said, but she wasn't sure if her message was being received by the child. When the child returned for his 6-year-old visit, he was disappointed to find he had aged out of the program. "He asked, 'Where's my book?' He was so excited for his book," Frost said. Seeing that enthusiasm for reading blossom is what makes Reach Out and Read so rewarding, she noted.

Family physicians interested in starting a Reach Out and Read program at their practice can identify their state or regional coalition's contact and fill out an online application on the Reach Out and Read website.(