We are pleased with our new found friendship with Reach-Out-And-Read! Their tireless effort to raise awareness about early literacy has a ripple effect on each and every generation to come. Their website is so comprehensive and includes some very novel ways to reach parents of young children in our nation and make literacy more approachable. We were thrilled with an online chat with their CEO, Earl Martin Phalen, who is leading the charge of this important cause that makes a difference in a child’s life.

  1. Working with medical providers is so novel yet makes so much
    sense. When did Reach out and Read first begin and how did you come up
    with the idea of reaching parents through healthcare channels?

The Reach Out and Read three-part literacy promotion model was developed by pediatricians Robert Needlman and Barry Zuckerman along with early childhood educators Jean Nigro, Kathleen MacLean, and Kathleen Fitzgerald-Rice. Together, they introduced the first Reach Out and Read Program in 1989 at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center).

Earl Martin Phalen, CEO of Reach Out and Read

Parents value the advice they receive from their child’s physician.  Reach Out and Read is unique because we use a trusted authority figure — in the special setting of the medical visit — to promote a child’s learning.  Not every child attends daycare or preschool, so we know that pediatricians have unrivaled access to children under the age of 5.

In Robert Needlman’s own words, Reach Out and Read as a program is universal, personal, early, repeated, and trusted.

2.  Do you find that healthcare providers are open to adding books next to the tongue depressors in the exam rooms?

Absolutely. Our medical providers incorporate the book into each well-child
checkup and use it to gauge a child’s developmental milestones. A book can help
a doctor diagnose anything from autism to a motor skills delay.

Our doctors also recognize that reading is a critical part of child’s overall well-being. Just as they give advice to parents about the importance of seatbelts and proper nutrition, they offer advice on the importance of reading aloud.

Reach Out and Read National Medical Director Perri Klass has said time and again that the program has transformed the way she does pediatric care —that the book has become just as important a tool for her as the stethoscope.

3.  What is something that you urge parents to do with their child beyond reading aloud to them each night?

We know that reading aloud to young children is the single most effective thing parents can do to help prepare their children to succeed in school. We also recognize that it’s not always easy to engage children for extended periods of time, so even just looking at the pictures and making up stories together is beneficial. The key is to make reading fun! Our school readiness experts offer some great reading tips here. 

In addition to reading, parents should also sing to their children, play with their children, and spend time talking with their children.  Early language skills, the foundation for
reading ability and school readiness, are based primarily on language exposure
— resulting from parents and other adults talking to young children.

4.  What are some of the ways that technology can supplement existing literacy building activities? 

Smart technology can help us spread the importance of literacy – and provide parents
and caregivers with easy access to tips and reference materials to assist their own children.

For example, our Reach Out and Read website is filled with easily-accessible book lists, reading tips, and research on the importance of reading aloud. Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect with our supporters – and the general public – daily to provide the latest early literacy news and updates.

We are also looking into developing texting platforms to provide literacy tips to parents,
and QR codes on posters that parents can scan with their phones to access our information.

Webcams and Skype are fantastic ways to allow parents and children who are separated the chance to connect, and bond over stories and conversation.

5.  Tell us a bit about your current promotion to encourage Summer Reading
with Summer of a Million Books – umm, that’s a ton of books!

Reach Out and Read has once again set the goal of putting one million brand-new books in the hands of American children this Summer.

That means that every day between June 21 and September 8, Reach Out and Read’s participating pediatricians will need to distribute 25,600 books to the children we serve.

If we succeed, we will provide one million more families with the tools and the guidance they need to prepare their children to succeed in school. But we cannot accomplish this goal without widespread support.

We encourage everyone to get involved in our “Summer of a Million Books.”

6.  I find your website very engaging. Do you get a lot of volunteers to participate via your website?  What are some of the volunteer opportunities out there for the public?

We do! When people learn about the effectiveness of our program, they are eager to get involved.

There are dozens of ways that people can support Reach Out and Read’s mission today and help ensure that every child arrives at kindergarten ready to read, ready to learn, and ready to succeed.

The single most important thing people can do is to read to the children in their lives every day. It’s the most effective strategy for developing critical early reading skills in children and promoting school readiness.

We strongly encourage people to donate their time to Reach Out and Read — either by organizing book drives in their communities, volunteering in our literacy-rich waiting rooms, or participating in any of our several events nationwide.

There are also several ways people can contribute monetarily to Reach Out and Read, such as sponsoring a child in our program or dedicating their wedding or special occasion to us.

Anyone interested in learning more about Reach Out and Read volunteer opportunities should click here.

 7.  I also see that Reach Out and Read is listed on the Joining Forces pledge to support Military Families, initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. How did you manage to spread your message from pediatric exam rooms to U.S. Military bases?

Reading aloud to children is a proven technique to help them cope with stress and anxiety, whether it is because of natural disaster, separation from a parent, or another difficult situation. Because of the unique pressures on military families, including separation, deployment, injury, or even the death of a parent, Reach Out and Read launched an initiative in 2006 to deliver our model to military children nationwide.

Given the countless sacrifices that members of our Armed Services and their families make for our country, they deserve nothing but the best – including quality health care and proven school readiness strategies. With early support from the Department of Defense, Reach Out and Read began implementing its literacy program at targeted U.S. military healthcare facilities, laying the foundation for one day serving all military families with young children.

Currently, we serve 90,000 children and families on 48 U.S. bases nationwide. In April, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families.  In support of Joining Forces, Reach Out and Read will expand to 100 U.S. bases by 2013, serving more than 200,000 children of military families.


We’d like to thank Earl Martin Phalen for taking the time to talk with us today.  Such an inspiration!  Just one of the many bright, shining faces behind Reach Out and Read.  If you want to find out more about Reach Out and Read I would highly recommend their website. It is packed with useful information and even opportunities to join the effort to promote school readiness in young children nationwide. Rally the parents in your community and/or school to keep this organization on your radar!

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