Unusual Rx: Doctors use free books to assess children’s development

Elena Bond, MD, a pediatrician at the Fairview clinic in
Brooklyn Park, uses books through the Reach Out and
Read program to assess pediatric patients.
Dec. 6, 2013
When children head to their Fairview doctor’s office for their pediatric checkup, they often can expect to receive at least one prescription—a prescription to read, that is.

To encourage early literacy and school success, almost all Fairview primary care clinics in the greater metro area partner with Reach Out and Read (ROR), a national, evidence-based program to make literacy advancement a standard part of pediatric primary care.

A useful assessment tool
The program provides families with a new, complimentary book to take home at each of a child’s regularly scheduled checkups between 6 months and 5 years of age. The books serve a dual purpose—they are used to not only encourage parents to read aloud at home, but also to assess development during the pediatric appointment.

“The books can be used as a tool to help determine whether or not a child is on track developmentally,” says Julie Abear, Fairview’s Reach Out and Read coordinator.

“For example, depending on the child’s age, a pediatrician might ask a child questions about the book’s illustrations, or hand them the book upside down and observe whether or not they try to correct that.”
More than 40,000 patient books will be given away to
pediatric patients at Fairview Clinics this year, says Julie
Abear, coordinator of our Reach Out and Read program.

Positive impact on school readiness
In addition to serving as an assessment tool, the books also can prompt discussion with parents about the importance of reading aloud.

According to the national program, families served by Reach Out and Read tend to read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills, better prepared to achieve their potential in school and beyond.

Fairview expands the national program model by also providing books for older children and stocking books in clinic waiting areas.

Watching kids eyes ‘light up’
“We love using the books to make a connection with the kids, and their eyes just light up when we pull a new book out," says Sonia Helmy, MD, a pediatrician at Fairview clinics in Bloomington and an ROR program participant.

Elena Bond, MD, a pediatrician at the Fairview clinic in Brooklyn Park, agrees. “It has been a very successful program. Among my patients, it’s made a big difference,” she says. “Many times, a book we give them becomes their favorite.”

This year, Fairview’s Reach Out and Read will be giving away more than 40,000 patient books. The books used for the program are provided through Fairview Foundation donations and grants.

The program provides new books for children through age 5, but also accepts gently used books for older children. If you are interested in volunteering to help with book sorting, collecting or distribution, contact Julie Abear,, 763-852-8830.

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