Helping Children Navigate Crisis through Reading and Storytelling

We all want our children to feel safe and secure. Reading aloud to your child is one way to help your family through this difficult time.
Helping Children Navigate Crisis through Reading and Storytelling
Interacting with kids is what keeps me going on a daily basis. I am fortunate to be the parent of two delightful children, ages 3 and 6, and a pediatrician seeing kids both in person and virtually each week. These days, when I am trying to work from home, entertain and educate my children, and keep some degree of normalcy for us all, I am struggling.  My most powerful tool to sooth tantrums and calm frustration?  Books.  Our house is full of them. Small ones, giant ones, colorful ones and some that are just full of words with no pictures. We snuggle together and immerse ourselves in magical worlds or search crowded pages for that red-striped shirted guy. We laugh at the truth of Everybody Poops. I’m sure many of you are doing the same.

But what about those families who don’t have books in their homes? What about those parents or caregivers who were never read to as children? Thankfully, I am honored to participate in a program that aims to address this disparity and put books into the hands of all young kids, while instilling the value of reading together.

Reach Out and Read is 30-year old, evidence-based program linking pediatric primary care with early literacy promotion. Its model is simple. Reach Out and Read provides new, age appropriate books for providers to give to children (ages 0 to 5) at well-child checks.  Nationally, about 95% of kids visit a doctor’s office (most of them many times) before they are connected to the educational system. By delivering books into the hands of children at these visits, Reach Out and Read helps build early awareness in parents and caregivers about the importance books and reading together have on a child’s long-term development.

In these current, challenging times, this program is more important than ever. Reach Out and Read provides pediatricians and family doctors a valuable opportunity to address relational health, positive parenting and resilience during this pandemic. Handing out a book and observing how the parent and child interact with the book gives us a window into the relationship and environment at home.  This can guide the provider in how to discuss and model positive parenting strategies, using the book as a tool for soothing and building language-rich interaction between caregiver and child. Click Tips for Parents on How Books Help Children Cope with Stress (available in English and Spanish) here to learn more about the benefits.

Reach Out and Read Oregon is on track to reach children in all 36 Oregon counties, prioritizing children in underserved areas. On April 30th, Reach Out and Read, Oregon, hosted a virtual event to celebrate its expansion, increase its visibility in the state, and thank the clinic teams that work so hard to implement this program successfully on a daily basis. Just this past week, a grandmother in Grants Pass, who is fostering her 5-year old granddaughter, received a Reach Out and Read book in the mail.  She called the pediatric clinic to share that in light of all the challenges she is facing, receiving that single book in her mailbox was the brightest part of her week.  By the end of the call, both the grandmother and the clinician were nearly in tears.   

I hope that all of you are taking time each day to enjoy the benefits of books in your own lives. I know my family needs the screen breaks to cuddle together on the couch and read. If you need inspiration, please visit Reach Out and Read’s video project, #Readtogether, showcasing videos of famous authors, everyday people, and plenty of pediatricians reading books.

Dr. Kate Clayton, MD
Medical Director, Reach Out and Read Oregon