Thousands of Children in Cincinnati Receive Free Books in Mail

New Program Focuses on Kindergarten Preparedness through Building Home Libraries

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

As part of a new effort to get more young children prepared for kindergarten, Cincinnati Children’s is working with community partners on a new initiative that incorporates reading into pediatric care. This one-of-a-kind program encourages families to read aloud together and combines two early literacy programs: Reach Out and Read and Imagination Library.

“Reach out and Read partners with doctors to prescribe reading at visits and encourage reading at home. And Imagination Library is a program that sends books straight to the home to promote reading in young children,” said Greg Szumlas, MD, with the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and medical director of Reach Out and Read/Imagination Library at Cincinnati Children’s.

Every family in Cincinnati with a Medicaid eligible child under the age of 5 can sign up to receive a free book in the mail each month beginning when the child is an infant. The new effort is part of a new venture philanthropy fund, Every Child Capital. Approximately 4,500 children in Cincinnati are registered and receiving books since the program launched last summer.

“This intervention of helping parents and caregivers to help their children read and be literate will have as big of an impact on child health in the broader sense than anything else we do in pediatrics including immunizations,” said Tom Dewitt, MD, division director of General and Community Pediatrics. 

While reading to children for oral language development is not a new developmental concept, there is now scientific evidence to support it. A recently published study by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s used functional MRI or magnetic resonance imaging in order to conclude that reading also plays an important role in building brain networks in children. 

“Our work for the first time added another layer to these findings. We found that regular parent child reading in the early years promotes development in the brain in the specific area that supports visualization and understanding of what's going on in the story,” said John Hutton, MD, clinical research fellow with the Division of General and Community Pediatrics. “It really helps connect the behavioral evidence with neurobiological evidence that creates a stronger argument that reading is very important for health and development.”

For the next three years, doctors will analyze the kindergarten readiness scores of children who are in this new program versus those who are not to evaluate the differences. By providing instruction to parents along with delivering books to the home, doctors expect to see positive results.

“Starting from birth, looking at books, reading and sharing books, and pointing out pictures, makes an enormous difference in kindergarten readiness,” said Szumlas. “We know that when kids do well in kindergarten then they will do well in the 3rd grade and tend to graduate school. It all leads to a better community.”

About Cincinnati Children's

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 Best Children’s Hospitals. It is also ranked in the top 10 for all 10 pediatric specialties, including a #1 ranking in pulmonology and #2 in cancer and in nephrology. Cincinnati Children’s, a non-profit organization, is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.

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Shannon Kettler