Pediatric Residents at Doernbecher Give Books to Children to Encourage Literacy

01/24/01    Portland, Ore.

Residents Will Give Free Books to Children At Well-Child Appointments

Pediatricians-in-training at Doernbecher Children's Hospital will now give infants and toddlers a free book every time they come in for well-child checkups. The book distribution is part of a national program called Reach Out and Read (ROR). Pediatricians-in-training, called residents, in the Department of Pediatrics at Oregon Health Sciences University's School of Medicine hope to increase the number of literate children by providing books to young children early in their development.

More than 40 million Americans don't have adequate reading skills, according to the United States Department of Education's The Nation's Report Card. That same report found that 23 percent of Oregon 12th graders do not read at the basic level. ROR aims to make literacy a routine part of pediatric practice, using the patient/provider relationship to support the development of literacy skills and fostering an early love of books in young children

Pediatricians recommend that children come in for routine checkups from birth through adolescence. During these examines pediatricians assess how the child is developing and give parents safety advice on topics such as seatbelts, bike helmets and how to keep poisons away from children. During their well-child checkup from 6 months to 5 years of age residents will give children books that are specific to their level of reading development. By the time a child is ready to start school they will have nine books to get them off to learning on the right foot. In addition, volunteers, most of whom are medical students, will read aloud to children in the waiting area of the clinic to encourage parents and children to share in the joy and value of reading aloud.

"We know we're making an impact on children's health and their future because reading is a basic skill that they will use the rest of their lives," said Emily Costa, M.D., chief resident of pediatrics in OHSU's School of Medicine and director of Doernbecher's ROR program. "And it definitely improves well-being, confidence, self-esteem and future success." The program not only increases children's ability to read but also their oral language skills, listening skills, ability to think about how words sound, and their letter and early word recognition. It also emphasizes the idea that books can be a source of enjoyment.

Costa and pediatric resident Shellie Yussman, M.D., applied to ROR last summer for a start-up grant. This grant, along with the generous support of the Doernbecher Children's Hospital Foundation, allowed them to purchase books from the ROR suggested title list. Doernbecher was able to purchase the books at a professional rate thanks to the Multnomath County Library. In addition the library has donated books that encourage parents to read to their children and a bookmark that gives parents instructions on how to obtain a library card. Costa expects to distribute approximately 4,000 books to children each year.

"This program helps to remove the barriers to access," said Costa. Children don't always have access to books because of poverty issues, their parents may have low-literacy levels and their families may not speak English. At Doernbecher, 25 percent of the books that will be given through the ROR program are in Spanish for those families with Spanish as a first language.

The ROR National Center is located at Boston Medical Center, formerly Boston City Hospital, where the program was founded in 1989 through a collaboration of pediatricians and early childhood educators. Doernbecher is one of 834 ROR sites around the country.

To learn more about Doernbecher's ROR program visit their Web site at