What Every Pediatric Professional Can Do

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​​​​​​Having a conversation about reading can flow naturally in your visits with families. Review these 17 tips to help you begin conversations that will encourage parents to spend time reading with their children.​​


​"Michael [10 years old] does not like to read; he'd rather be watching TV or playing games on the computer. It really helps when someone besides me or his teacher encourages him to read."

—Cathy Rowland, Mother of 4​

1. Familiarize yourself with the evidence on the importance of reading, talking, singing, and playing with young children and how practice-based literacy promotion creates and reinforces optimal synapses in children's developing brains. These connections build language, literacy, and social‒emotional skills at a critical time in a child's development and secure the bond between parent and child.

2. Implement a literacy promotion program in your practice. Share anticipatory guidance regarding early literacy and early learning to foster a love of books at each visit, beginning at birth. A wealth of helpful information on establishing and supporting practice-based literacy promotion is available in this toolkit and from Reach Out and Read.

3. Encourage parents and other caregivers to read, talk, sing, and play with their young children, beginning at birth. Ask about family beliefs and practices regarding early learning and literacy. Specific guidance for parents about reading and sharing books with their children is available in the Family Resources publications on the home page of this website. For families of low literacy, use the handouts for well-child visits​.

4. Promote the 5 Rs of early education with young families:

  • Reading together as a daily, fun, family activity
  • Rhyming, playing, talking, singing, and cuddling together often throughout the day
  • Building Routines for meals, play, and sleep, which help children know what to expect and what is expected of them
  • Giving Rewards for everyday successes (especially for effort toward goals like helping), understanding that praise from those closest to a child is a very potent reward
  • Developing Relationships that are nurturing, reciprocal, purposeful, and lasting, which are the foundations of healthy early brain and child development

5. Welcome children by entering the exam room with a book in your hand. Role model sharing books during the visit and use that book as a component of your developmental surveillance. The Literacy Milestone chart developed by Reach Out and Read (ROR) can be your road map to helping families share books, and ROR's videos for pediatric providers also demonstrate inclusion of books and literacy promotion in practice.

6. Encourage parents of preschoolers to find high-quality early educational opportunities for their child such as preschool or Head Start. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has lists of preschools with voluntary accreditation. The National Head Start Association lists their programs for economically disadvantaged preschoolers. Child Care Aware helps families learn more about the elements of high-quality child care and how to locate programs in their communities.

7. Encourage parents of 4-year-olds to go to the Get Ready to Read website to learn about family activities and resources supporting early literacy. The Get Ready to Read website, developed by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, provides many literacy skill-building activities, including a preschool reading readiness screening test for parents to use with their 4-year-olds.

8. Encourage parents of kindergarteners and elementary school-age children to go to the Reading Rockets website and others for ideas about how to support early readers. A sister project of Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado, is a bilingual site that offers a range of resources for Spanish-speaking and English language-learning parents, including family literacy activities. The Reading Is Fundamental website also is a rich source of information about reading with young children, including ways of combating summer learning loss in young school-age children.

9. Encourage parents and other caregivers to visit their local library with their children to borrow books and for story time. Provide a list of local libraries including their locations and hours to help families make these connections.

10. Provide culturally and age appropriate books and magazines in your waiting room. Families benefit from being in a "literacy rich" waiting area or exam room. The American Academy of Pediatrics publication Selecting Books for Your Program offers guidelines based on children's ages and other considerations. Lists of multicultural children's books can be found on the Reading Is Fundamental website and the American Library Association's Notable Books for Children website. The AAP publication Finding the Right Book for Every Child also provides examples based on children's age and interests.

11. Display posters or show DVDs of parents and other caregivers and children reading together. The American Library Association store and the National Literacy Trust have great materials for this purpose.

12. Connect the families in your practice with greatest need to evidence-based home visiting programs in your community. Home visiting programs can foster early learning and support parents as their child's first and most important teacher. The Health Resources and Services Administration's Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECV) website provides information about these programs and links to grantees in your state.

13. Hold a book drive with community partners to provide books to children and families in your practice. This event can provide an ideal opportunity for school or faith-based organizations seeking worthwhile service projects to partner with you. Use these handouts in your practice to collect gently used, donated books.

14. Collaborate with local child care providers and child advocates to promote the importance of reading, talking, and singing with young children. Work with them to develop and support literacy-rich environments and experiences for young children. For more information, refer to the National Association for the Education of Young Children website and to the AAP's Early Brain and Child Development Web page, which also has PowerPoint modules that can get you started. One possible source of support for this work is an AAP Community Access to Child Health (CATCH) grant.

15. Solicit volunteers to read aloud in the waiting area to model how parents and caregivers can read with their children. Volunteers can truly enhance the experience children have visiting their pediatricians. Volunteers can read aloud, decorate bulletin boards with literacy-rich material, or assist children with educational activities in the waiting area. (Download a PDF that can be provided to volunteers to express your appreciation.) Reading Is Fundamental has a wealth of support and information about reading and children. Its website provides information for volunteers, teachers, and parents on current trends in education, down-to-earth suggestions on reading in the home, and no-nonsense strategies to improve children's reading. The Corporation for National and Community Service can help you post your program to recruit volunteers for your practice.

16. Encourage parents and caregivers with low literacy levels to share picture books with their children, talk with them about what is happening in the pictures, and possibly even act out stories with them. Telling and retelling favorite stories and singing songs together are also fun family activities that build early learning skills. Refer interested parents and caregivers to adult literacy programs. Helping parents improve their reading will certainly benefit their children. America's Literacy Directory has a list of literacy and educational resources that allows users to type in a city, state, or ZIP code to find a program near them.

17. Read with the children in your life. Read with your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, your friends' children, and the children in your practice. Read with children whenever you can. Read because you love reading, adore children, and want to share this joy with them. The Ten Read Aloud Commandments by Mem Fox is a helpful resource for volunteers, parents, and professionals who love to read with children.