By Myrna Fletchall
Learning about story time isn’t usually part of a doctor’s appointment.
However, this was wrapped into the experience for many children visiting Mountain Family Health Centers (MFHC) last year.
At most MFHC locations, every child between six months and five years old receives a book during their well-child visit, as part of the Reach Out and Read program. Providers also coach parents on how to read to their child.
“It’s hard to believe sometimes that our kids don’t get exposed to a book until they are in school,” said Billing Supervisor Myrna Fletchall in February. Myrna oversees training and book purchases as manager for Mountain Family’s Reach Out and Read program, which is nationwide.
Myrna says there’s often a combination of reasons why parents don’t read to their children, especially if a parent has a child under six years old. “They don’t have money to buy a book, [they] come from different cultures, they don’t think the baby’s paying attention,” continued Myrna. Often parents also think infants or toddlers are too young to listen to a book being read out loud. Or, a parent can get frustrated when a young child can’t sit still and listen.
“So that’s the perfect time for the provider to educate [the parent],” said Myrna, “and say… the baby’s going to grab that book, put it in their mouth, chew it.” And that’s ok, because the goal is to create a fun, family environment around books, so children are comfortable or even excited about reading.
Myrna says it usually gets a parent’s attention when their doctor starts talking about reading out loud and the best way to do it.
More than two dozen MFHC physicians are trained to prescribe books and teach parents the best way to read to a child. Last year, MFHC providers gave out about 1500 books to child patients and their families. Given the choice, families were more likely to choose bilingual Spanish and English books over English-only books.
Studies involving Reach Out and Read affiliates around the country have shown that children who participate in the program often have better vocabulary and spend more time at home reading or talking about books with their parents. That familiarity can be a crucial building block for literacy and help a child do well in school.
For Myrna, connecting health care with reading is a personal passion. She’s been running the Mountain Family program since joining the organization in early 2015. “I’ve seen the results,” she said. “I’ve seen the kids walking out of those wellness checks…and they’re just super excited about this book. And that’s what we want.”
MFHC in Edwards has been participating in Reach Out and Read for approximately ten years, including when it was the Eagle Care Clinic. Now physicians in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Rifle, and Avon Elementary are participating as well.