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Doctors are giving kids 'prescriptions' for books to foster good reading habits

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Posted at 11:21 AM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 16:02:25-04

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WEWS) — It’s a book so many people know and love — "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

For 5-year-old Zion Crenshaw, the book is a much-needed escape.

“It’s the little things that make people happy,” said mom Shawanna Crenshaw.

Her six children and foster children are all patients at MetroHealth in Cleveland, Ohio.

She brought Zion in for his wellness check and shots.

The books in the waiting room and the books handed to him by the doctor when he leaves make a big difference.

“If they’re getting a shot, they’re sitting there reading a book, it relaxes my children,” Shawanna said. “So I’m glad the books are there.”

They’re in the doctor's office because of a national nonprofit called Reach Out and Read, founded in 1989 by Dr. Robert Needleman, a physician at MetroHealth.

“He thought about, 'What if we put books in the waiting room, what would happen?' And the books disappeared,” explained Lynn Foran, executive director of Reach Out and Read Greater Cleveland.

So from there, they started including them in child wellness checks.

More than 200 doctors and nurse practitioners across nearly 40 locations in greater Cleveland are trained in early literacy by Reach Out and Read.

There are books in the waiting room, exam rooms, and stacks and stacks of books, free to grab on your way out.

Pediatrician Dr. Anna Winfield has been part of the program for decades. She said the improvements she sees are remarkable.

“Ten years ago, I would give people a book and they would say, ‘That’s the only book I have at home’ and now you give them books and they say, ‘Oh I have plenty of books’ — but they still need more!” Winfield said.

Research shows reaching kids at an early age helps with kindergarten readiness, parental engagement, and is even beneficial for maternal well-being.

Book "prescriptions" detailing specific reading material can even help parents feel more at ease.

“I think a lot of our parents who are at higher risk for low literacy get nervous about reading with their kids because they’re not confident in their own skills,” Winfield explained. “And if you show them what to do with the book and their kid, their eyes kind of light up.”

The key to Reach Out and Read’s success has been rolling the importance of literacy into well-child visits, talking about it at the same level as safe sleep and good nutrition, and partnering with doctors who are trusted by families.

“They’re the messengers,” Foran said. “And parents, as you know being a mom of young children, you look to their advice and guidance to help you support the healthy development of your child.”

Reach Out and Read targets children six months to 5 years old. It has reached more than 4.2 million children across the country

This story was originally reported by Homa Bash on news5cleveland.com.