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News from Reach Out and Read Washington State
In This Issue
National Governor's Association Focuses on Early Literacy
Results Washington Early Learning Strategy Gets Attention
Language Gap Between Rich and Poor Children Begins in Infancy
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October 2013

"Research shows that parents have the greatest influence on children's language and literacy development."


--National Governor's Association Center on Best Practices Report:
   A Governor's Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading   
   by Third Grade (October 2013)

Dear Friends-


I think that quote bears repeating. Research shows that parents have the greatest influence on children's language and literacy development. 


This simple truth about the power of parents has driven my work for more than 20 years, first as a pediatrician and now as an early learning leader at the helm of Reach Out and Read Washington State. This truth became a lot more personal 16 years ago when our first child was born. And I began to feel it more passionately as it became obvious that this truth has been known--and proven by research--for more than 2 decades. Honestly, at times I have alternated between crying and screaming in frustration as we continue to see our youngest children put at a disadvantage from the first days of their lives, simply because of their economic and social circumstances. Yet the vast majority of children have one or more parents who would lovingly give the world to them, if they only had some support to help them do so.


It is patently ridiculous that we don't help parents be the best teachers they can be for their children. Why don't we? I don't know. I continue to be astounded by our collective failure to act. But I do know that we have no excuse. None. We can help parents, and we must do so. Nothing less than our collective future is on the line here.


I am delighted by the growing interest in early learning from the highest levels of government and the private sector. Changes in public and political will; new policies; additional public and private investments; and the implementation of proven programs: all of this is needed. In Washington State the expansion of preschool through ECEAP; the focus on improving child care quality through Early Achievers and payment reform in Working Connections Child Care; and increased investments in Home Visiting--these are all good things. But they aren't enough. They don't reach enough families--and I mean families, not just children. And they don't reach enough of them early enough. The home environment from the first days of life matters, and it matters forever.  


So this newsletter contains cause for concern and for hope. There is a huge need, yes. But it is accompanied by actionable steps we must take to systematically support parents and early literacy as a statewide early learning strategy. This includes:

  • Research by Stanford Professor Anne Fernald that proves once again that language skills are significantly different based on the home environment; this time measuring differences at 18 months of age
  • A National Governor's Association report that shares best practices for supporting early literacy
  • Washington residents' enthusiasm for Reach Out and Read within Results Washington

For almost 25 years, Reach Out and Read has been supporting parents and improving early literacy outcomes for children, addressing the very issues the latest reports and studies say we still need to focus on. I find it ironic that the very week of my 25th college reunion at Stanford one of my professors is being highlighted in The New York Times about her latest research on early literacy, demonstrating just how much work remains for us to do.


Will we fail to act for another 20 years? Or will we help every parent be effective as their child's first teacher? This is not impossible, or even that hard; it just takes the will to do it. It's both economically and pragmatically feasible, and doctors across Washington State are ready to help! But we can't do it alone. We--the residents of Washington State--collectively must decide to support parents of very young children. If we don't, someone else will be writing these same stories a generation from now; and that is not our vision for the future. Is it yours? 


Jill Sells, MD and the Reach Out and Read Washington Team





New report highlights Washington's investment in Reach Out and Read. Hot off the press this month is A Governor's Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading by Third Grade: a report from the NGA Center for Best Practices.


"Improving early literacy is essential to increasing high school graduation rates allowing students to be successful in post-secondary education and ensuring the prosperity of all Americans. A Governor's Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading by Third Grade examines the gap between research and policy and describes the five policy actions that governors can take to ensure all children read at grade level by the end of third grade."


The report recommends that "states increase the number of children who are proficient in reading by third grade by including three major and widely embraced results of educational research in their efforts" listing the following:

  • Differences in literacy and language development in early childhood can lead to achievement gaps as early as kindergarten;
  • Reading proficiency requires a focus on interrelated skills and knowledge taught over time; and
  • Parents, primary caregivers and teachers have the most influence on children's language and literacy development.

Delving into the 3rd bullet, you'll find the further statement that of the bunch, parents have the most influence. This is not so say that primary caregivers and teachers don't matter--of course they do--but it demonstrates the need to support parents as a primary strategy, not an afterthought. The report highlights "public-private partnerships to promote parent-child book reading and build home libraries." And within this, it notes "In Washington, the state Department of Early Learning and Thrive by Five partnered with Reach Out and Read, which involves pediatricians and other health professionals sharing effective reading practices with new parents as part of the developmental screening process and well-baby visits." We appreciate our longstanding partnerships with DEL and Thrive, and are excited to collectively be recognized by the NGA as a best practice.






Reach Out and Read posting generates the most public comments. The first goal of Governor Inslee's Results Washington Framework is a world-class education system.We appreciate the focus on results, and the inclusion of early learning as a core part of Washington's education strategies. Dr. Sells posted an idea to include Reach Out and Read in Results Washington, and we were thrilled to see the immediate response. Quickly racking up 283 votes (the 2nd highest of any suggestion) and 34 comments (the most), the enthusiasm for this idea was overwhelming.


Here's the idea: Parents are their children's first teachers, helping prepare them for success in school and life. Doctors who participate in Reach Out and Read prescribe books, discuss early literacy, and encourage families to read together. This type of parent engagement provides a great opportunity to improve developmental and educational outcomes for kids. When parents talk and read with their children it develops the early literacy skills that help them be ready for kindergarten and lead to greater reading proficiency down the line in 3rd grade. Doctors are unique messengers because parents trust them and all families bring their children to the doctor, even those who typically don't access any other programs. Reach Out and Read is evidence-based and proven to increase parental reading and improve child language skills. It was included in the Early Learning Plan, WA's seminal ten year planning document, as a critical strategy. We can rapidly scale the program as part of a world-class education system, focusing first on children living in low-income families.


Suggested Indicator 1.1.f. Increase the number of well-child visits with doctors who participate in Reach Out and Read from 157,142 visits per year to 500,000 by December 2018.


Here are some of the comments. Click here for more!


"Reach Out and Read has been an excellent program at our clinic that we implemented earlier this year to help increase the literacy level of our patients under the age of 5. We give each patient who comes in for a Well Child Check between the ages of 6 months and 5 years an age appropriate new book and we give their siblings an age appropriate used book. We stress the importance of reading with parents during these visits. We also have volunteer readers (mostly retired teachers) who read to children in our waiting room. Our clinic serves an underserved population that is 65% Medicaid, 15% Uninsured, 15% Medicare and 5% Privately Insured. All of our families are very grateful that we are participating in this program and it is so rewarding for our providers to see our young patients so excited to receive books and read them with their parents."

--Marcia M. Wharton, MD


"Reach Out and Read is a wonderful program engaging the medical community in supporting parents and caregivers as their child's first teachers, and promoting the role of a literacy-rich environment in early learning. The program also actively participates in our community coalition supporting Tacoma's Campaign for Grade Level reading. Let's expand the reach of Reach Out and Read!"

--Holly Bamford Hunt


"The Reach Out and Read program has brought structure around reading to the tribal clinic. The program has really served as a springboard or touch point to reach out to the parents and discuss the importance of speech and language development in their kids. In addition, it allows me to connect with both Moms and Dads about the importance of spending time with their kids through reading."

--Scott Lindquist, MD; Director of Health, Kitsap Public Health District;  and Pediatrician, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe Health Clinic


"Research by Stanford psychologists reveals that 2-year-old children of lower-income families may already be six months behind in language development." In previous newsletters we've focused on Hart & Risley's landmark study and book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Published in 1995, the finding of a 30 million word difference in what children have heard by age 3, based on their families' economic situation, still has shock value, if people are paying attention. 

According to Stanford News, "Stanford researchers have now found that these socioeconomic status (SES) differences begin to emerge much earlier in life: By 18 months of age, toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency." Read the article for fascinating descriptions of how they can determine what language very young children know. The sad news is this: "By 2 years of age, these disparities are equivalent to a six-month gap between infants from rich and poor families in both language processing skills and vocabulary knowledge," Fernald said. "What we're seeing here is the beginning of a developmental cascade, a growing disparity between kids that has enormous implications for their later educational success and career opportunities."


But there is good news: "It's clear that SES is not destiny," Fernald said. "The good news is that regardless of economic circumstances, parents who use more and richer language with their infants can help their child to learn more quickly."




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Reach Out and Read helps prepare children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Our evidence-based proven program leverages the influence of children's doctors and makes literacy a standard part of well-child checkups from ages 6 months through 5 years. Reach Out and Read supports parents as their child's first teacher and helps children be ready for kindergarten. 


Through 161 programs in 31 counties, 1,200 medical providers serve an estimated 90,000 children and their families across Washington. Reach Out and Read Washington State is a Regional Office of Reach Out and Read, Inc., a national not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization.



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