Children going to see the doctor will be leaving with a new book — once an early-literacy program starts at the Reedsburg Area Medical Center.

The “Reach Out and Read” program is slated to begin in April, said Jodie Molitor, community relations coordinator at RAMC.

All patients at RAMC are eligible for the program regardless of background. The gifts are intended to encourage parents to read aloud to their children.

Kris Houtler, youth services librarian at the Reedsburg Public Library, selects the books just right for the ages of the children and orders them through Scholastic Books. She has ordered 600 books to start the program.

“Children who are read to know the excitement that a book can hold,” Houtler said. “Children who are not read to are just held back a little bit.”

In addition to the new books given out in the exam room, used books will be available for families to take home in the waiting rooms.

“The library’s role in ‘Reach Out and Read’ is also to create a literacy-rich environment at the clinic,” Houtler said.

She expects the program to continue indefinitely, but said a sufficient source of money to start the program was necessary to be collected.

The hospital is providing $6,800 worth of free books to all patients between the ages of 6 months and 5 years who come in for well-child visits. Well-child visits occur every three months until the children reach age 2. Then they are seen once a year.

Molitor explained that the program originally began for children in Reedsburg, La Valle and Cazenovia areas who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at schools. She said 40 percent of students participate in the lunch program.

“Hunger, unemployment and homelessness make education a much-lower priority,” she said. “When you’re hungry, you need to work to eat instead of read.”

Fewer books per child are available in low-income neighborhoods, she said. There are 13 books to one child in middle-income neighborhoods, while there is only one book to every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.

“Many of the children whom we treat at our clinic have limited access to reading materials and some have never opened a book before they come in for a well-child check,” she said.

Molitor said while a doctor is learning about the children during the visit, he or she can observe how they grasp and pinch while holding the book. The medical professional can also check to see if the child can open a book, and if a child of a certain age can hand the book to a parent. A child chewing on a book is an indicator about development, too, Molitor said.

Doctors can then address any developmental problems seen during the visit.

“I think it’s a great program. You can see the change in kids,” Molitor said.

Books in Spanish are available to families requesting them.

Molitor said RAMC, Partners of RAMC, RAMC Foundation, Kiwanis, Reedsburg Women’s Club, Lands’ End, Reedsburg United Fund, Reedsburg Rotary, Reedsburg Lions Club and Reedsburg Education Foundation are all donors for the program.

Reach Out and Read originated at Boston City Hospital in 1989. The program provides 6.5 million books a year to children across the country. Visit www.reachoutandread.org for more information.

Reach reporter Anna Krejci at (608) 745-3513 or akrejci@capitalnewspapers.com.

  • Reporter, photographer for Reedsburg Times-Press and Wisconsin Dells Events

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