North Carolina Will Expand Early Literacy Program To More Doctors' Offices

Jan 19, 2021

One year old Eleanor holds the new book she received from Dr. David Tayloe during her check up. The New Bern clinic gives books to kids at each of their well visits from six months to five years of age, as part of the Reach Out And Read program.
Credit Lisa Philip / WUNC

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has announced it's expanding a successful early literacy program to all North Carolina counties.

The national Reach Out and Read program equips primary care doctors to give babies and toddlers a book at each of their regular checkups. The books become a conversation starter about building good reading habits at home.

The program's Regional Director Callee Boulware breaks down what that conversation may look like in a doctor's office.

"If you have a six-month-old in there for that visit, probably that baby's going to stick that book in her mouth and chew it. And the provider's going to say, 'Oh look at her, she's so smart.' [Then] the provider will launch into a discussion of 'How do you guys like to enjoy books at home?'" Boulware explains.

This simple interaction helps a doctor check a child's development and motor skills, while also encouraging families to routinely read together.

Reach Out and Read targets doctors who serve low-income families in particular, measured by the proportion of patients who are covered by Medicaid. Children from low-income families tend to hear fewer words as they are developing. This so-called "word gap" can put kids at a disadvantage when they learn to read.

Boulware says many research studies have shown the program is effective on several fronts.

"We know this helps children with their development of early language," Boulware said. "We know that it changes parent behavior, that it really helps families change the way that they spend time together and spend more time every week reading together."

Boulware said it also strengthens families relationships with their primary care provider, and encourages following through with regular checkups.

With a new funding model that uses federal matching grants, the state hopes to reach 30,000 more children from birth to age five in all 100 counties.