Reaching out even before they become readers

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At what age should you start reading to your kids?

Suzanna Beckwith will say as soon as they are born.

That young?

That’s right, insists Beckwith, executive director of Reach Out and Read RI. Even newborns, she says, should be exposed to books, although at that age they can’t see color and illustrations should be in black and white.

There weren’t any newborns at the Roger Williams Park carousel Saturday morning, but there were plenty of families with their young children. Silas Davis, who is two and a half years old, was among them. He was delighted to get a reading tattoo, ride the carousel and munch on popcorn. His parents say Silas loves reading and he’ll go through as many as four books a night.

Reading at under three years old?

Well, no, he’s not reading the books; he’s being read the books, says his mother.

That’s just the kind of report Beckwith wants to hear. A goal of Reach Out and Read RI, she said, “is to encourage families to include reading as part of their routine.”

It does start early in life, too. The state program operates on a $400,000 budget and works with 300 pediatricians at 73 sites across the state. Using its buying power, Reach Out and Read RI purchases quality children’s books (they pay no more than $2.75 a book) and through the offices of pediatricians give them to families who don’t have the resources to buy them. Last year alone they gave out 83,000 children’s books, reaching 41,000 children.

Reach Out and Read RI’s mission is to provide young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. Established in 1999, Reach Out and Read RI is an evidence-based early literacy organization that promotes school readiness in pediatric exam rooms across Rhode Island by giving new, age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate books to children and providing guidance to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

Pediatricians and family physicians that participate in Reach Out and Read RI empower parents as teachers of their young children by providing this early literacy guidance during checkups and making reading aloud a “doctor recommended” activity. According to Reach Out and Read, children who have participated in the program arrive at kindergarten with larger vocabularies, greater comprehension skills, and a six-month developmental gain in the skills needed to read than their peers.

Reach Out & Read also promotes an early library program.

Grants and donations provide funding of the program.

With the threat of rain, the event was indoors. That didn’t slow anyone down, if anything with the carousel spinning it seemed to speed things up. But then that ensured there was that much more time for reading when everyone left.

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