February 11, 2000

Reading’s impact lasts a lifetime: speaker

Featured Image

Christian music star Michael W. Smith and his wife, Debbie (right), read the book “Where’s Whitney?” to a rapt audience at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital last week. The Smiths were here to help kick off the new Reach Out and Read program. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Reading's impact lasts a lifetime: speaker

Growing up reading may not seem as important as growing up healthy, but Dr. Perri Klass believes that encouraging children to read can change their lives.

Klass, a pediatrician and medical director of the Reach Out and Read program at Boston Medical Center, spoke here last week when Vanderbilt Children's Hospital launched Jo's Reach Out and Read Club, a version of the nationally known program that makes early literacy part of pediatric primary care.

The Vanderbilt effort hopes to reach low-income families where books and reading are not ordinarily a part of a child's environment. Children visiting the clinic for well-child visits will be given a new book at each visit. In addition, volunteers will read to the children in the waiting room each day.

It's a five-year program made possible by a gift from Dr. Rebecca Swan, assistant professor of Pediatrics, and her husband, Dr. Michael Swan, a local obstetrician-gynecologist, in memory of their 14-month-old daughter, Johanna, who died last April.

Klass said that even toddlers can complete sentences in books that have been read to them frequently.

"By age 2 you can see a difference in children who are growing up with books and those who aren't. Pediatricians can distinguish between their patients who are growing up with books and those who aren't," she said. "If you see a difference by age 2, what kind of difference will you see by the time they go to school?"

Klass said that about 35 percent of first graders are in some sort of remedial reading program because they can't read at their grade level.

"By the time the child gets to formal reading instruction, they should have about 1,000 hours of book time. And that's not an extraordinary amount of time."