Pediatricians and other medical providers say sharing a book with a young patient during an office appointment helps them build a relationship. And parents are thrilled to get new books to read to their children.

Such is the feedback that program coordinator Rachel Hui-Hubbard often receives about the Early Learning Partnership of York County’s Read Out and Read program. ROR promotes reading and bonding among parents and their children from birth to age 5 through partnerships with 11 pediatric medical provider offices in York County.

Medical providers “tell me how important it is on many levels to have this book as a tool,” said Hui-Hubbard, who works with the practices, providing books and supplemental materials and making sure providers complete the training that ROR provides.

Hui-Hubbard said one local medical provider is from Nigeria, and was pleased to have a book with a Nigerian character for her patients to see. Another provider found it useful to have a book that was about children’s feelings, she said.

“It helped him start a conversation with the patient about how they are feeling, and it’s OK to be angry and have emotions,” she said. Other providers have reported that some of the books they receive through ROR “help them broach difficult subjects.”

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.

Children receive the books at their well child visits, and providers receive video tutorial training that focuses on best practices for using the books. Providers also learn how to use the books as a tool to assess a child’s development.

Hui-Hubbard said providers can glean a lot of information about a child’s development by observing how a child interacts with a book. How well young children grasp the book or turn pages, for example, is an indication of motor skills; they can also assess the child’s visual tracking and ability to answer questions and interpret illustrations. For older children, she said, the provider may determine the child’s ability to identify colors and shapes in the book.

She said providers report that parents enjoy receiving the books.

“It’s nice to get something when you go to a practice,” she said. “But a book is very useful. Especially when the doctor talks about the importance of reading, parents have this tool now that they can go home and use.”

Hui-Hubbard said anecdotes that parents like the program are nice to hear, but she noted that ROR is based on evidence. Medical practices, which must serve a minimum level Medicaid population in order to participate, submit reports twice a year to ROR. Parents also complete an annual survey.

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.

The parent survey found 77 percent of parents were reading daily or weekly with their child and that 56 percent were engaging in different literacy activities. In addition, 42 percent of returning ROR parents reported an increase in daily interaction with their child, compared with 34 percent of new ROR parents.

The evidence, Hui-Hubbard said, shows that ROR is making a difference for the children. “We are trying to help at a very fundamental level, from birth to age 5. I think it’s really important that we do what we can to strengthen children at their very foundations.”

Hui-Hubbard also said parents don’t have to be readers in order for their children to benefit from ROR. Providers can show parents who are not literate how to use the books, for example, by making up a story for their child or asking questions based on the pictures or colors.

She said ROR distributes both English and bilingual books; many parents like the bilingual books because they are learning English or Spanish and can use the books to expand their own vocabulary, as well as their child’s. 

ROR also focuses on providing books by diverse authors and about diverse characters so children of different races, cultures and backgrounds can see themselves and other children in the stories.

“There are more books about Black, brown, and Asian children, children with curly hair, children from non-traditional families, children who are differently-abled, books about indiginous peoples and books about Hispanic cuisine,” she said. “It’s important for non-minority children to understand other cultures, as well as for the minority kids to see themselves and their own cultures reflected in books, and I’m happy to help make that possible.”