REACH OUT AND READ 

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Reach Out and Read - the only literacy program approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that all families should have the tools and information they need to make reading aloud a daily routine. With its network of 33,000 pediatric practices, Reach Out and Read trains pediatricians to help talk with families  about the importance of reading with their children. In addition to giving parents book, Reach Out and Read shows them how to hold books to best engage their children, and how to interact with the text and images to help them follow along. Families gain a deeper understanding of why they should make reading a daily habit, and leave inspired to cuddle up with their young one and a book. Reach Out and Read has near universal scale—we serve 4.5 million children annually. 

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

I'm thrilled today to be joined by Brian Gallagher, the CEO of Reach Out and Read. Thanks for joining us today from Boston.

 

Brian Gallagher

Thank you, Molly. It's great to be here with you today.

 

Molly Ness

Familiar with Reach out and Read. I am a parent who, every time I go into the pediatrician's office and I wait in the waiting room, I see the literature of Reach Out and Read. I know your mission. I know your work. Um, but lots of people out there. Don't so, um, can you provide us a little bit of the backstory and the history of your organization?

 

Brian Gallagher

Sure. I'd be happy to, uh, um, so Reach out and Read as a national organization. Um, we reach children ages zero through five, really, um, starting at birth all the way through their kindergarten years. And we encourage parents to read early and often, um, as part of daily routine. Uh, Reach Out and Read is unique in that we reach children through the pediatric platform. So, um, we're really integrated into pediatric practice. Um, as parents are bringing their children in, in those early days, weeks, months, years of life. Uh, pediatricians, family physicians, nurse practitioners are through the checkups, through their regular checkups, talking to parents about reading, um, talking about their daily routine about parent child interactions, those language-rich interactions that are so important, um, and we integrate a book into that visit. So the pediatric provider hands, the child, the book, um, it's age-appropriate. Uh, we can certainly talk more about books, um, as part of our model. Um, but that book is for the child to take home with them, um, and for the family to start reading early and often, and we do that at every checkup, um, through age five. So, there's a repeated nature to our model, um, where we kind of are able to follow that child through those developmental milestones as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

 

Molly Ness

So, let me clarify a point right from the get-go because my guess is that some of our listeners out there and some of the parents and patients, um, that are, um, working with Reach Out and Read, sort of scratch their head and say, you know, this, this is, this is a medical visit. I'm here to see if my child is on track for height and weight development and immunizations. Maybe we're here to check out vision and hearing- why books, why talk about language? Like why is this a focus in a, what is typically a medical community?

 

Brian Gallagher

Uh, it's a, it's a great question. Um, and certainly there are a lot of all of those elements in every pediatric visit, um, that are just critical to healthy, um, child development and healthy growth. Um, and yet in early childhood, what we've learned over the past few decades, um, around brain development, um, has really influenced the thinking and the practice, um, in pediatrics, um, understanding that it's really about relationships, those early relationships they're called foundational relationships or, um, early, um, early childhood health, um, relationships, um, that really are so critical to, um, kind of that foundation for all future learning. Um, those relationships really help with all other aspects of child development, cognitive, language development…, um, creativity, um, children learned through others through those, um, the kind of loving and the nurturing that occurs in those early years. And we see books as a vehicle, um, to those interactions. So, um, it's all learning happens through language, um, and pediatricians see themselves as critical messengers, um, in many ways, because in those early, certainly in those early years, you know, birth to three, there is, um, oftentimes that pediatrician, uh, or that family physician, maybe the only, um, kind of child development professional that parents are interacting with in those early years before there's any formal, um, kind of early childhood education, even preschool.

 

Molly Ness

So, what should a parent expect if they, um, come into their pediatrician's office and their pediatrician as a part of Reach Out and Read, what is that experience like for the parent and the child?

 

Brian Gallagher

Um, so, uh, we've got a great video that does this on our website Reach Out and Read or, uh, um, but the ideal is, um, you know, and as they're walking in and saying, hello, they're actually handing a child a book. Um, it could be a board book for a six month old or a, um, an early reader book for a three or four-year-old. Um, but they're starting off that visit with that book and saying, you know, this is for you, you know, and, and immediately within just a few seconds, they can get, you know, a lot of nonverbal cues about, um, you know, both, both from the child, if they're a little bit older, but certainly from the parent to about, you know, how at ease are they with, um, with handling books, you know, what, what are the things that a child does with their gross motor skills? You know, how do they handle the book? Do they does a two-year-old know how to turn the book the right way, um, and open the book, uh, from, from right to left. And then the words go, um, you know, from the left to the right. Um, those are all things that really just without even asking questions, um, pediatric providers can see, um, and then give immediate feedback, you know, look at your child. That's six months old, put the book right in his mouth. That's exactly what I would have expected to do, you know, he's growing so well. And, you know, also look at how much he loves that book, you know, it's just, it's so great. Um, and then, you know, they also can gauge the, uh, from the parent's perspective, you know, are they at ease with, um, handling the book, you know, do they engage with their child? Um, and if they do, there's a lot of coaching and just encouragement that can occur. Um, but if they seem a little bit reticent, um, or unsure, there's immediate coaching that can happen since skill-building, you know, where the, the, the pediatrician can say, look, let me just read a few pages. And let's kind of just spend a minute even, and it is a minute because there are all of the other elements that need to happen in that visit. Um, but it really changes the dynamic of the relationship between parent provider, um, and an ultimately child. Was there a little bit older? Um, you know, it just, it kind of gives that sense of hope and, you know, I care about your child's future development. I care about their learning, I care about their growth, um, and, um, over time, that relationship and that trusting relationship really becomes a critical component of that pediatric experience.

 

Molly Ness

So, one of the things that I always, um, struggle with is how to support parents who, um, may not consider themselves literate or maybe, um, bilingual and, um, are unsure of how to best support their parent, their- their child, um, either in an act that's not comfortable for them or, um, in a different language. So how are you supporting parents in diverse communities and saying that even if you are not necessarily reader yourself, or even if you are, I'm a speaker of another language, um, you still play a huge, important role in your child's literacy development.

 

Brian Gallagher

Yeah, it's a, it's a really important question. And there's a few different ways that we approach that. One is because we work with such a wide array of publishers, we're able to access books and over 26 languages. Um, and we really work with our local communities to determine what languages do they, are they looking for? What language do they do they need? And then we're able to match them with different publishers that have children's books, um, in those languages. Um, there's just a lot of beautiful, rich, authentic books, um, that are, I think when families see their books in their own language, in their home language, um, again, that just contributes to that sense of, um, connectedness and inclusion. Um, so that's one way. Um, another way is, you know, especially with children's books being so visual, um, and, you know, illustrations being so important, uh, our providers really talk to parents about, you know, you don't even need to read the words, you know, just look at the story together, you know, point to the pictures, make up your own story. Um, um, and that's something that everyone should be doing, um, because it's, uh, with the reading of the word… is important. And yet, um, we all the years that it isn't just about reading the book to your child, it's really about sharing the books, experiencing them together. Um, asking questions about your own experience, you know, pointing to pictures and relating them to your own experiences, uh, kind of making the book bigger than, than it is, uh, and connecting it to the child's world and doing that, um, through, again, pointing to pictures, um, talking about the the pictures, telling your own story. And then the third I would say is, um, is wordless books. There's a lot of books up there that are just pictures. Um, and that is a wonderful way to make your own story. Um, have families make their own stories together and even make different stories every time they, they share that book.

 

Molly Ness

Well, thank you for confirming, um, what my instinct has always been saying to parents and community groups that I work with, those wordless picture books, I think are, um, remove sort of the fear and anxiety that parents might have that they're not doing it right, because with the wordless picture book, whatever language you're generating is the correct way to, “read that book.” So, tell us a little bit about your outreach and your impact as well.

 

Brian Gallagher

Sure. Um, so as a national organization, we, uh, operate in all 50 States. Uh, we have about 6,100 pediatric clinics. So, their hospitals, health centers, private practices, really anywhere that children are going for their primary care. Um, uh, serving, oh, about 4.5 million children each year. Um, our outreach really is, um, through the medical community, through the pediatric community, um, and a big part of our effort, uh, involves pediatric and family practice, residency programs. Um, so as, as residents are learning about all the things that you mentioned at the beginning, um, about all the things that it takes to become a pediatric care provider, uh, they are really also experiencing Reach Out and Read. Um, and so a lot of times we're, uh, you know, we're, we are doing some outreach. Um, and yet they're also reaching out to us to say, you know, I'm at my new clinic. Um, and I would want to get this Reach Out and Read program up and running. You know, I, I, my patients did the books, um, and you know, I, as their practitioner want to give them the books, um, and integrate this into my practice. So even last year in the, um, you know, over the past several months of the pandemic, we still brought on over 300 new Reach Out and Read sites across the country because, um, providers to see the value in their practice and they see what the long-term impact is on the families, in their care.

 

Molly Ness

Well, that segues perfectly into my next question. I've been asking, um, guests in the past several months about how their work has pivoted and adapted and, um, been innovative because of the pandemic. So how has your work changed? We're speaking now in early November 2020. So we are, I want to say what seven months into this, this really, you know, feels at this point like seven years. Um, but how has, how has your work changed?

 

Brian Gallagher

So, we, uh, in early March, we really, uh, just stepped into action right away to really see what were the needs of, um, pediatric clinicians across the country. You know, what were they experiencing? We, we spent a lot of time listening to our community, um, and especially, you know, the- the biggest concern within the pediatric community over the past several months has been with, you know families not going into visits, um, children not getting immunized. And, um, that was an initial, it still is a concern, and we still are working with the American Academy of Pediatrics on their Call Your Pediatrician campaign to encourage families, to go in, to visit their pediatrician, get those immunizations, have their checkups, uh, it's an incredibly safe place to go. Um, and it may be the only place that, uh, families are bringing their young children and to get this kind of guidance, um, and support. So, um, there were several things that we did, um, in those first few months. Number one, we, uh, launched a, um, a read together video campaign where we encouraged our pediatric providers, children's authors, um, other supporters and stakeholders to just pick up their favorite children's book, read it aloud, send their video in, so that, um, that was one place that they could go to, um, you know, experience reading aloud and books sharing. Um, we also, um, really learned a lot in just a few weeks about telehealth. Um, and, uh, a big part of our model is pediatric provider training with videos that show, um, how to integrate the book into each visit at each age. Um, we had never stepped into the telehealth, um, uh, experience before, and we created in late April, um, our first telehealth training video for pediatric providers to show, how can you talk about a book and how can you talk about reading when you're not there in person actually handed the book? You know, do some of those things I talked about earlier around experiencing the tactile nature of, of a book, um, and that was an incredibly well-received resource for providers because it was one way that they could just connect with families about, you know, spending more time at home and just reminding them about reading and finding whatever materials they had, um, at home to read together. Um, and then, um, we also, uh, worked with a few publishers, um, and authors to create some, uh, some resources online just to get more reading materials on available, uh, eBooks. Um, that was the first time we'd done that. You know, our, our model really is about, um, the physical book and really sharing that book together and putting your child on their lap and not focusing on the screen, but we knew that, um, with families at home, um, the screens were just a nature of, uh, what we were experiencing. And so we wanted to these create some high-quality materials online with, um, three books.

 

Molly Ness

So, um, I am a social scientist, well aware of, um, needing data to measure impact. Um, so I'm curious about how you guys evaluate your programs, how you know, that the programs that you've designed are reaching the people that you're trying to reach and having a long-term, um, impact. I, I believe I saw that you are, um, have recently celebrated a pretty significant anniversary. So obviously there has to be a plethora of data, um, around that question.

 

Brian Gallagher

Um, indeed, and that, uh, we, we just celebrated last year, our 30th anniversary, um, and in fact, Reach Out and Read was founded by pediatricians in Boston, um, knowing that they had a role to play a really critical role in those early years to not only get books into the home, but also to promote reading and really make, uh, literacy orientation, uh, part of childhood. Um, and get parents more involved in reading. Um, so the, uh, actually right in the early nineties, 1990, 1991, um, going way back, uh, the first Reach Out and Read study was done to say, you know, uh, Reach Out and Read pediatricians were doing this at, um, what was then Boston City Hospital now, Boston Medical Center, was it making a difference? Um, and they found that it was that parents were more likely to report more reading at home compared to children that were going to clinics that didn't have the Reach Out and Read program that then led to what other outcomes can we see. Um, and it led to a whole array of, um, uh, research studies that have been done over the past three decades, um, to ask that question. What is the impact of Reach Out and Read? We know that not only do parents report reading aloud more often, but they report, uh, having more books at home, they get one book at Reach Out and Read, um, at their visit. Um, but they encouraged families to go to the library. Um, there's so many other programs I know many of them have been featured on your podcast, um, that are also about getting books into the home. And so it's just a reinforcement to say, you know, here's one book, um, go out into the community, find others, so that, that was starting to happen. Um, then they looked at language development in the toddler years and what we call the language explosion years, um, the 24 to 36 months. And they found that children who were experiencing Reach Out and Read in those early years had a three to six month, um, difference in their vocabulary, um, at that three-year mark than children who were not, um, in a part of a Reach Out and Read program, this all coincided with, um, just continued growth of Reach Out and Read over the years as more and more pediatricians realized the value that this had on, um, not just getting books out, but really on language development. And, um, even in the past, uh, few years, we've had additional studies to not only replicate some of the things we've learned but also to just to look at what is the impact on pediatric practice? Does this change the culture, um, of pediatric practice? You know, does this change the- the way that pediatricians think about their, um, their practice with families? And, um, in fact, it does. So there's a whole race. I think we're up to 16 studies now that demonstrate the impact of Reach Out and Read.

 

Molly Ness

Wow. And I will be sure to link on my websites, some of those studies, because, um, I think what's so powerful about Reach Out and Read is when you look at the parent education, um, you see this trickle-down impact on the literacy practices of families. And so, um, you guys have such a great model going to parents directly talking about the importance of literacy modeling it, um, and then providing the resources which are then going to carry families and parents forward in raising their children as readers.

 

Brian Gallagher

Absolutely. Yes. Um, and in fact, one of the studies that we have, um, we call it the dosage effect, you know, because of the repeated nature of well-child visits, you know, through those early years, um, we have, uh, two studies that do demonstrate that the more visits that you have, you know, where you experienced Reach Out and Read, um, the better the outcome is, you know, it's not just this one and done you come in once you get a book and then, you know, magically things, um, change. Obviously, there's always so many different elements that go into this, but we do see that reinforcement, that repeated nature, um, the positive messaging around you're doing such a great job, you must be reading at home, you know. That just encourages more, um, reading, um, and success begets success. And ultimately that leads to, you know, those later years and as children are getting ready for kindergarten, when, you know, they, they may not know how to read yet, and that's not the point. The point is, are they, you know, do they have that, um, that foundation for future learning? Um, that really is so critical in those, um, early school years.

 

Molly Ness

Well, and what I love so much about, um, your approach is that so often I think we see literacy as siloed to the- the field of education. And, um, we sort of see literacy development as something that is, um, leaped to the purview of teachers and early childhood educators. And now we're starting to see, um, so much conversation taking place in interdisciplinary fields in medicine, and we're starting to really understand neuroscience and how literacy impacts the brain and, um, all of these fields coming together, which to me is just, um, super cool. And I can totally geek out about the interdisciplinary nature of reading and literacy development.

 

Brian Gallagher

Yeah, there's, there's so much to cover. Um, you know, we've, we talk a lot about social, emotional development and, um, just the, that that is so critical to, um, to long-term child development and healthy development, um, and books really can be a vehicle for, um, conversations that may not otherwise occur in those early years. Um, you know, and there's a whole array of topics that, um, can come up and that, you know, we're talking about even now thinking about, you know, the- the future of Reach Out and Read and, and the model and how do we stay true to what's- what's worked and what's, um, been our core, um, and yet always adapting to just the changing nature of, uh, certainly pediatrics. Um, how can we continue to be of service to the pediatric field? Um, what do pediatric providers need, um, as they're looking to support families? Um, and just, uh, actually another outcome of the pandemic this year was we've instituted a, started off weekly, um, and then became a biweekly conversation with our medical champions across the country, um, to really respond to their needs around in this moment, how are they supporting families? You know, what are families experiencing? What are the challenges, um, and then where can Reach Out and Read, um, be a part of that conversation, you know, how can books, uh, be that tangible component, uh, that very concrete thing that doctors give to their families, that they can go home with and that's become part of their, their home environment, um, part of the relationships that they have at home? And, you know, it opens up all of these doors to, um, you know, age-appropriate conversations that are just critical to the, those bigger issues that you're referencing.

 

Molly Ness

Well, again, I think it's, it's so interesting. I know when I, um, talk with teachers and families, um, I share out some of the medical science that we have around the impact of reading aloud and how literally, um, the brain pleasure centers associated with, you know, the neuro-transmitters associated with pleasure, light up and, um, pretty powerful stuff, especially now, um, that parents and kids are struggling in these stressful times, the power of a read aloud to, um, provide that socio-emotional benefit, um, not to mention the linguistic and academic and all of the other components, um, something so easy, um, and something that all families can do. Um, so thank you for sharing that message with parents and families and caregivers.

 

Brian Gallagher

Oh, we often talk about the, you know, the kind of that, even if it's five minutes, um, you know, that's sometimes is enough in a day, um, to be that safe, comforting place, um, regardless of what chaos is going on, um, you know, and there will be chaos and there will be challenges. Um, and yet for a child to know that there is this safe place, and it's often involves a book or sitting on a, a loved one's lap or a caregiver's lap, um, just for a few minutes to have that shared experience, you know, that, that matters. Um, you know, … can be a safe harbor, um, in a challenging time when there's a lot of stress and anxiety surrounding communities and families.

 

Molly Ness

Well, you're reassuring me as a parent. Um, I am the parent of a fifth grader, um, and it's been a, obviously it's been a stressful time. She's entirely virtual. Um, my work is entirely virtual and I am the only adult in my home. Um, and I have a postcard on my bulletin board that says when parenting feels too heavy, um, and you know, virtual learning, isn't going well. Uh, grab your kid and read a book because that is so powerful and so transformative and so simple.

 

Brian Gallagher

Yeah. And it's, it's, um, certainly there are benefits for the child, but as a parent, it's extremely beneficial, you know, to just again, have that calm and that, um, that space, um, to just reset, reset things and give some perspective.

 

Molly Ness

Well, I certainly could talk with you for hours, but I do want to carve out some time for the question that I ask of every guest of this podcast. Um, in the spirit of building, reading culture and promoting, um, conversations around books and literacy. Um, I like to ask people about a book that really has had an impact on them, a book from your pastor or present that really, um, continues to resonate with you. It's kind of a bit of a different question than what's your favorite book, um, because it really makes you think about something that's, that's had an impact on you. So, um, I know many of the guests on this podcast are lifelong readers and it's nearly impossible to narrow it down to one. Um, so do your best to share out that book that continues to impact you?

 

Brian Gallagher

I think it is an excellent question and I love the framing of it. Um, I typically alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Um, and I, as I reflect on this question, um, I go back to a biography, um, that's maybe a little over a decade, um, but that came out about a decade ago, uh, Doris Kearns Goodwin, um, A Team of Rivals and, um, you know, certainly at the time when I was reading it, um, it was right at the time of, uh, another presidential transition. And, um, you know, just the idea that, um, uh, Abraham Lincoln, I think looms so large in our, just our, our historical, um, mindset. Um, and there's often this myth kind of this mythical figure. And yet, um, that book really drove home, not just the crisis that the country was in, um, but, uh, but his humanity, um, and I think his humility, um, but also his vision, like he had this grand vision, um, knew it was, um, you know, an incredibly complex, um, time, um, with myriad challenges, uh, and yet stayed the course and kind of his steady, almost quiet leadership, um, were bringing in different perspectives certainly gave me, helped me think about leadership, um, at a time of crisis, but also just leadership generally. Um, and you know, how do you bring together, uh, factors- groups that, you know, have wildly different, um, in differing opinions about the direction of a country. Um, so that certainly in the moment we're in as a country right now that, um, the spirit of that book rings true. And I think that there's just incredibly important lessons about moral courage and, um, and persistence and, um, doing what you think is right for the good of the people.

 

Molly Ness

Well, I'm so glad that you brought up that title. Um, again, I'm speaking with you at the end of a very long week of election returns in 2020. And like, I assume many people, I have been binge-watching the returns and Doris Kearns Goodwin's has- have been, has been on many of the news outlets, um, talking about this time in history as it relates to that exact time period from Team of Rivals and what a gift she is as a writer and historian to, um, analyze both the past the present. And hopefully we will be able to take lessons from Team of Rivals and apply it to the, the timeframe that we're going through right now.

 

Brian Gallagher

Absolutely. I think it's a, an essential, uh, guidebook for, um, whatever's to come over the next few days and weeks and years. Um, as we think about the direction of the country and just the opportunity to really stick to our ideals of who we are as a people. And, um, yes, uh, she is an incredible story teller, um, and incredibly compelling. I think it's just, um, the way she weaves together, um, just different elements. Um, I think speaks to that beauty of, of writing and, you know, why reading can be such a, both important, um, experience, but, you know, we find such pleasure in reading, um, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, those, those kinds of books.

 

Molly Ness

Well, thank you so much for your time today and sharing out the work of Reach Out and Read. Um, I will direct listeners to the endbookdeserts.com website to find out more. And, um, we will continue to look towards you guys as, um, leaders in the field and, um, continue to examine your impact and see where the road ahead takes you.

 

Brian Gallagher

Well, thank you very much, Molly. I've really enjoyed speaking with you today.