Special to the
Opelika Observer

Reach Out and Read-Alabama pediatric practices and clinics will celebrate 14 years of stories this summer with its 11th annual summer campaign that promotes families reading together.  Since 2006, our pediatric healthcare providers have prescribed over 1.7 million brand-new books to the state’s youngest and most underserved children. This year, copies of the book Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly and James Dean will be prescribed by pediatric healthcare providers statewide.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama kicked off the 11th annual campaign live on its Facebook page with a virtual event on June 19. Special guest speakers included Betsy Prince of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services; Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and the Troy Resiliency Project; Anna Dailey of Dothan Pediatric Clinic; and Clayne Crawford of the Clayne Crawford Foundation, who read Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses.

Teaming up with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the lead agency for Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Reach Out and Read-Alabama practices and clinics are hosting events throughout the summer that give parents practical information about building moments and routines to help their families manage during these anxious times. Using the book as a basis to explore new feelings and emotions as well as the world in which we live, each event provides one simple reminder to families that spending time together with books can offer a safe harbor, even if only for a few moments each day. In addition, information about services and support through Early Intervention referrals and Child Find (1-800-543-3098) will be available for parents and caregivers at each event. “We are excited about our partnership with Reach Out and Read-Alabama and the summer reading campaign,” said Betsy Prince, coordinator of Alabama’s Early Intervention System/Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. “This provides a great opportunity to get the word out about early literacy and about the importance of Early Intervention in supporting infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and their families.”

According to the Urban Child Institute, children’s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years, the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others. “I have found the Reach Out and Read program to be a critical component of our primary care clinic. It is incredibly powerful to not only be able to talk about but demonstrate the power of books and reading for our children and families every day as we are able to observe how children interact with books as well,” said Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, medical coordinator of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and founder of the Troy Resilience Project. “I look forward to sharing this book in our clinic for the upcoming summer reading program. It promotes positive thinking, which is so important in these uncertain times. I love that it gives parents and kids the chance to feel a little brighter while promoting literacy and relationships and building a healthy foundation for every child and caregiver to become more resilient.”

The evidence-based Reach Out and Read program builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning in infancy. With more than 15 peer-reviewed studies and a recommendation by the AAP, Reach Out and Read is an effective intervention that incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice, equipping parents with tools and knowledge to ensure that their children are prepared to learn when they start school. During regular, one-on-one visits with the doctor, families grow to understand the powerful and important role they play in supporting their children’s development. Parents gain the confidence and skills that enable them to support the development of their child, early language and literacy at home.

Currently, 52 of Alabama’s pediatric practices and clinics serve as Reach Out and Read-Alabama program sites in 30 counties, impacting 40 % of the state’s children under the age of 5.