Doctors encourage reading at children's check-ups

December 26, 2013 (JOLIET, Ill.)

"He's actually learning about the book while he's putting it in his mouth," Dr. Melanie Harris-Smith said. The Will County Community Health Center pediatrician is measuring Christian's developmental milestones and incorporating a book into the exam.

"In our six-month-old and nine-month-olds, they developmentally are in an oral sensory stage where part of their discovery and language development and how they receive their environment is done by putting objects in their mouth," Dr. Harris-Smith said. "So we want these books to kind of parallel those early signs of language development."

At every "well child" visit at the Will County Community Health Center, doctors give patients a new story book to take home. It's part of a national partnership among physicians called Reach Out And Read. By the time children enter kindergarten, they will have amassed a home library of at least ten books. The goal is to increase access to books in the home for low-income families and to encourage parents to read aloud.

"I didn't grow up with plenty of books so I didn't know with regards of reading out loud that would help a lot. By the doctor telling me, I learn a lot," Lily Mae, parent, said.

Volunteers are also on hand throughout the clinic to read to children in waiting areas. They also distribute free books. Dr. Harris says the outcomes of the practice benefit the whole family.

"It not only promotes literacy in the English language but it promotes bilingual literacy," Dr. Harris-Smith said. "For families that may speak other languages and they are looking now to learn the English language, they are actually learning alongside their children when they are reading books aloud."

"Reach out and Read" is not a funded program. The Will County Community Health Center relies solely on donations of new books for children. Barnes and Noble is currently holding a book drive for the program. Learn more at

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