Max Agnew and his mom, Brianna Agnew, eagerly read the book he received from Dr. Lisa Herzig as part of the Neurodevelopmental Clinic’s Reach Out and Read program.

From story time at preschool to reading bedtime stories, books play an important role during childhood.

“Reading together is a critical part of early childhood brain development,” said Dr. Emily Myers, a pediatrician in Seattle Children’s Neurodevelopmental Clinic. “Reading helps children build language and social skills. When stories are a shared experience between kids and their families, it helps build positive, healthy relationships.”

During her residency at the University of Chicago, Myers learned about Reach Out and Read, a national program where primary care providers give new books to children ages 6 months to 6 years during well-child visits. Providers use the books to talk with families about child development and parent/child relationships, and to observe developmental milestones and actions during clinic visits.

Seeing the benefits of Reach Out and Read inspired Myers to bring the program to the hospital.

“I started the program in the Neurodevelopmental Clinic because I was struck by how many families didn’t have books at home,” she said. “I found that there were a variety of reasons why they didn’t have books or read with their children. Reach Out and Read breaks down many of these perceived barriers, and families get a book that’s theirs to take home and keep.”

Dr. Shaquita Bell, pediatrician and interim director of the Center for Diversity and Health Equity, is excited to share a free book with Jonah Harris and Jeremiah Nichols during a visit to OBCC with their grandmother, Marva Harris.

Although the program is fairly new to the main hospital campus, it’s not new to Seattle Children’s.

“The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC), led by Dr. Ben Danielson has had a Reach Out and Read program since 2000,” said Myers. “Because of the OBCC program, I imagined that Reach Out and Read could be done at the hospital, too. OBCC set the stage for success in modifying Reach Out and Read for a subspecialty setting.”

“It’s something we can all do together”

At 19 months old, Max Agnew has been part of the Neurodevelopmental Clinic’s Reach Out and Read program for about a year. He and his twin brother, Gus, were born five weeks early.

“While the boys were still in utero, an ultrasound showed that Max had a congenital pulmonary airway malformation and a sacral dimple,” said mother Brianna Agnew. “After they were born, we were referred to Seattle Children’s to keep an eye on things and make sure Max is on the right track. He’s taking longer to walk and reach the normal milestones, but he’s making good progress.”

During Max’s first visit to Seattle Children’s, Dr. Lisa Herzig, Developmental Pediatrics, gave the family a book and told them about the Reach Out and Read program.

“The book Dr. Herzig gave us had a lot of pictures of babies showing different emotions and Max loved it,” said Agnew. “He gets excited every time we get a new book! He loves to read with us, and is picking up on language and learning new words. The books are really helping him.”

Agnew and her husband, Ryan, said Reach Out and Read also reminds them to make reading a priority for their family.

“We try to read with the kids a few times a day, every day,” said Agnew. “The twins’ 4-year-old sister loves to make up stories and act them out for her brothers. Reading is also part of our bedtime routine. It’s something we can all do together.”

Book love in any language

Since the program’s launch in 2014, the Neurodevelopmental team has given more than 4,000 books to patients and families. The team stocks a wide variety of books, which they select for patients based on their developmental level. They include books in Spanish and other languages, as well as some in braille for children who are visually impaired.

“We get donations of new books from the Volunteer Office and are able to purchase books through larger vendors like All About Books,” said Myers. “One problem we face is not having a reliable source of funding for the program. I fundraise outside of work and some other providers donate money to buy books. My division chief, Dr. Bill Walker, has been great about helping me fill in the gaps with his budget, but I know that’s not a feasible long-term solution. Figuring that out is one of my biggest challenges.”

Reach out and grow

The enthusiastic response to the program at OBCC and in the Neurodevelopmental Clinic is motivating Myers to work on bringing the program to more areas at Seattle Children’s. Although running the program involves some extra work and creative budgeting, it’s definitely worth it for Myers. She and the other providers get to see the benefits of the program firsthand.

Dr. Emily Gallagher recently started Reach Out and Read in Craniofacial Medicine and I’d love to continue expanding the program throughout the hospital,” said Myers. “We have data showing it’s beneficial for kids under 6, but it would be great to include older children, too. I’d love to get to the point where every patient in the hospital gets a book. We’ve seen some enthusiasm, and I think the sky is the limit on what Seattle Children’s can do to help families read and develop together.”

If you are interested in supporting the Reach Out and Read program, visit https://giveto.seattlechildrens.org/read.