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March 9, 2017

Reading: A Critical Activity for a Child’s Growth and Development

What a day! I had the privilege of hearing three different presentations by Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, Reach Out and Read. I love to learn and he is full of insight and practical application on how we can invest in families in ways that will lead to better outcomes for our children.

One of my strongest childhood memories is that my father read to us. Consistently. He passed away eight years ago and yet I can still hear his voice, the sound of him licking his fingers to turn the page, the warmth of knowing that he loved the written word. He loved words in general. It wasn’t just the reading, it was the questions and the commentary that drew us in. Although I did not spend my entire childhood with him, he made a lasting impression and gave me an incredible gift. Years later, I shared that same gift with my favorites. I saw reading in a new light and I will always be grateful.

I wish that gift for every child. Time with somebody who thinks they are the greatest human being. Somebody who cherishes time with them. Somebody who reads … Because when children are read to, the neurons in their brains light up showing that deep learning is going on.

As Dr. Navsaria pointed out, the first 1,000 days (or three years) of a child’s life are critical to lifetime success. We will never retrieve those days when a child’s brain is at its peak for learning. If we miss this opportunity, intensive interventions can be successful in gaining ground, however, they are impossible to scale.

That’s what makes Reach Out and Read pivotal to child development. Reach Out and Read trains physicians to use their well-care visits with children and their parents to prescribe reading as a critical activity for their child’s growth and development.

Dr. Navsaria shared that more than 90% of our children nationally go to healthcare visits, but are not necessarily involved in early learning experiences. By combining the trust that parents have in their pediatricians with this valuable learning opportunity, we have a scalable initiative that will impact generations.

Manatee County Rural Health (MCR) has been working with the program for nearly seven years in Manatee County. Unfortunately, funding has been a challenge. In Manatee, our pediatricians see children for nearly 10,000 well-care visits a year!

That is why the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading worked to increase the partnerships necessary to bring this effort to both Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Over the next three years, United Way of Manatee County and Manatee Community Foundation have committed to funding the initiative in Manatee. Community Foundation of Sarasota County has done the same in Sarasota. To be successful, the leadership of The Patterson Foundation has committed to ensure continuity and consistency, a win-win for our children.

Dr. Navsaria left us with this key thought, “The single biggest influencer on health is education. When you take a respectful, collaborative approach the gains are life altering.”

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