Between the Lines: Kids and Books

Sep 30, 2016

Literacy volunteer with a student at Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park, California, in 2015
Credit Tony Avelar / AP Photo

Early childhood expert Robert Needlman is a leading pediatrician, professor, and author. He's also the co-founder of Reach Out and Read, a literacy program that helps millions of children grow up loving books. And Needlman is a widely-sought speaker on early learning, literacy, and developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

“Overall, the United States doesn’t do as well as it should,” Needlman says. “The richest and most powerful country around, and we’re not even near the top of the list in terms of literacy.”

Needlman developed the Reach Out and Read program in 1989. It's designed to play a part in regular pediatric care. He works with parents to teach them storytelling skills, and with children to give them foundational language skills. Needlman says learning to read and enjoy books also gives kids living in poverty a better chance at success in school, and improves behavior by giving them the ability to express their thoughts and feelings in more constructive ways.

“It often doesn’t take much,” he says. “Just a little encouragement, a little empowerment, one or two picture books the kids can take home from the doctor’s office, and the parents and kids are off and running, doing wonderful reading aloud. And that’s because it’s just so much fun.”

Reach Out and Read serves 4.5 million children annually. Children who participate in the program during their preschool years score three-to-six months ahead of other kids their age on vocabulary tests. The program is now used in all 50 states at 5,500 sites and has distributes 6.5 million books to families each year.

Needlman will speak at two events in Kalamazoo. All are free and open to the general public but registration is required. On Thursday, October 6, from 1 to 4 p.m., Needlman will talk about early literacy professional development. On Friday, October 7, at 8 a.m., he'll present at WMED Pediatric Grand Rounds about the importance of promoting early childhood literacy during pediatric appointments. Both events will be held at the Bronson Gilmore Center for Health Education, 7 Healthcare Plaza, in Kalamazoo. Call (269) 553-7876 for more information.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.

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