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Reach Out and Read

Evidence-based, Reach Out and Read (ROR) is a unique project designed to prepare America's youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Mercy Health Foundation on behalf of Affinity Mercy Hospital and Affinity Medical Group, has been working with local donors for our Oshkosh area Reach Out and Read. Currently, the clinics are providing books to all children beginning with the six month well baby checkup. Additional funding would allow the clinics to expand the program, offering books as early as the newborn checkup.

Reach Out and Read focuses on early literacy development to try to decrease the achievement gap between lower and middle/upper income families. Doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals incorporate Reach Out and Read's evidence-based model into regular pediatric checkups, by advising parents about the importance of reading aloud and giving developmentally-appropriate books to children. Age appropriate books are given to the parents at each well child visit. Providers model reading for the parents, helping parents understand the importance of reading to their child, paving the way for children to grow up with books and a love of reading. The program is unique in using a trusted authority figure, in the special setting of the medical visit, to promote a child's learning.

The goal of Reach Out and Read is to promote early literacy from age 0 to 5 years, making literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric care. This is accomplished by providing education in clinical visits by doctors and nurses as well as an age appropriate book at each visit (a library of twelve books at the end of the 5 years). Reach Out and Read builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning in infancy. Reach Out and Read 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.

Clinicians at Affinity Mercy Hospital and Affinity Medical Group are strong supporters of the program. Reach Out and Read has been a standard part of the clinics' practice for over a year. They too see the importance of encouraging parents to engage with their infants' right from birth. The first six months of life is a period of rapid brain development that will not occur at any other time, and is a critical window when parental responsiveness can shape a child's development. They want parents to understand the importance and impact of talking, singing, reading and playing with their babies as early as the newborn visit.

With additional funding, Affinity Mercy Hospital and Affinity Medical Group will be the first clinics in Wisconsin to expand the program to include new born well child visits, as early as two (2) weeks after birth. The cost per child for books from new born to five years is approximately $60. For some, these are all the books they'll have in their home. Our pediatricians are committed to making sure all children seen for well child checkups in the clinic (including the 42% of children seen who receive Medicaid funding), will leave with books, the gateway to learning!

The following are anticipated outcomes of the project, allowing us to know if the project is successful.

  1. Children will have increased access to books (number of books in home)
  2. Increase in parent knowledge of the importance of creating frequent regular reading routines at home will increase their child's reading readiness
  3. Children will increase their oral language skills (e.g., vocabulary) and emergent literacy skills (e.g., book knowledge, comprehension, print knowledge, letter naming fluency, rhyming, and initial sound fluency) while experiencing more enjoyment from reading.

Early childhood development research says that 96% of a child's brain will be developed by the time they're age five. By providing age appropriate books we believe we will achieve a long-term outcome of closing the literacy gap in Winnebago county. As with all early education programs, early intervention helps keep children from falling even further behind, more significant long-term gains will be realized and will be measured by an increase in reading level scores as evidenced by Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) scores.

The outcome of encouraging parents to read to their children and providing a home library will better prepare children for school and make a positive difference in children's developmental skills and consequently in the nation's economic health. Early childhood education is an investment in workforce development. Literacy skills are positively correlated to job factors such as promotions, income, part time versus full time employment and even rates of injury. Employees without literacy skills are less able to communicate effectively with co-workers, less able to perform the tasks that are required of them and less able to reach out for help.

As Reach Out and Read continues as a standard of care in our clinics, we believe we will see results similar to what has been experienced on a national level. Key findings include

o Parents served by Reach Out and Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud to their children.

o Reach Out and Read reaches the child through effectively teaching the parent to start lifelong learning in the home.

o During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests. These early foundational language skills help start children on a path of success when they enter school.

Low literacy is a crisis that impacts all of us. When individuals learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers, the more likely they are to lift themselves out of poverty, contribute to improved health care costs, and find and keep sustainable employment.

We are well started on the path to encourage reading to the children in our community, but reaching all children means we need engage and fully take advantage of our community partnerships. The benefits of early literacy development last throughout childhood and beyond…books really are the vehicle for the interaction of talking, playing together and bonding between parents and children. By offering guidance about reading aloud to infants and toddlers, as a simple way of encouraging language-rich nurturing, our medical providers can help parents to give their children the best start in life.

Reach Out and Read at Ascension Mercy Hospital and Ascension Medical Group is fully funded by philanthropy, thanks to donors of Mercy Health Foundation. To make a donation to support this program locally or to provide new books, please call (920) 223-0520 or visit

Mother with Sick Child