When Catherine Faircloth took her young children to the pediatrician for a well check, the office visit always began with a book.

“The book is such a critical piece of that first 90 seconds of the visit,” said Faircloth, the mother of three daughters. “It changes the tune of what the child will experience during that visit. I just find it so powerful now, looking back on every single part of that visit, where the book was the first thing.”

The Early Learning Partnership’s Reach Out and Read program provides the books that physicians distribute to children ages birth to 5 during well child visits at 11 pediatric practice partners across York County. ROR also provides training to physicians as part of its mission to promote reading and bonding.

Faircloth, who works in private banking at South State Bank, is a big believer in ELP’s ROR program. Her employer, South State, supports ROR as a sponsor with community reinvestment act dollars. South State has been donating for years, she said.

Faircloth said it’s important for the community to financially support the program “because the statistics show that if a child is not reading by third grade, the success rate does not look nearly as wonderful. I think it’s our responsibility, as citizens of the community, that every single child is able to read by third grade.”

Through ELP’s collaboration with the national ROR office and its ROR-Carolinas affiliate, ELP provides children’s books that are diverse and age- and language-appropriate. ELP also supports the medical team, which promotes parent-child bonding, early brain development, and a love of learning in young children and families.

Statistics show the program is having an impact.

In 2020, for example, 20,318 books were distributed in York County through ELP’s ROR; 99 percent of the medical professionals gave out books at well child visits and 95 percent of them offered guidance to families on reading and bonding.

Faircloth, whose daughters are now ages 8, 12 and 15, said that when her oldest child first began receiving books from her pediatrician, she wasn’t aware of the connection with ROR. In the years since, she has become familiar with the program.

She said the books make a doctor’s visit a positive experience for a child. “It’s so valuable when a doctor walks into the exam room” with a book, she said. “You’ve got a young child who might only remember the shot part of the previous appointment.”

She said her daughters enjoy reading every day. “The nighttime story always included the books from the (doctor) visit that day . . . It was even more exciting when they could read the book on their own.”

While children enjoy the books, Faircloth said pediatricians also use the book as a way to assess each child’s developmental level, for example, asking them to identify colors, animals or numbers as appropriate for the child’s age.

She said pediatricians emphasize to parents the importance of making time each day to sit down and read to the child, which also serves as crucial bonding time for families. “If mom and dad are stuck on their electronics, and not reading to their children, that’s just as bad as not having a book in the house,” she said.

Faircloth said it has been rewarding to watch the program work by promoting reading and bonding and making children better prepared for school. “We know that if we don’t start at birth, the chances are less, so everything we can do to put a book in front of a child, to have an extra hour of reading wherever we can, is going to be beneficial to the child and the community.”