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Prescription for a Healthy Child: Read to Them at an Early Age

Penn Pediatric Literacy Program's $6,000 Renewal Grant

Four years and 3000 books later, family physician Dr. Ian Bennett, and his colleagues at Penn Family Care are continuing to teach parents that, by reading to their children, they help enhance their children's health, as well as their future educational achievements.  "It's really important for a child to be read to everyday because their lifelong health appears to be related to how well they learn to read.  This is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to help their child get prepared for school," explains Dr. Bennett, assistant professor of family practice & community medicine at Penn's School of Medicine. "Reading to children is the best thing to do to help them get prepared for school. Kids who start school without knowing how much fun reading can be are more likely to end up in remedial reading programs, less likely to ever read well, and more likely to ultimately drop out of school."

Under the auspices of the ‘Penn Family Care Reads' program—which was launched by Dr. Bennett in 2001—the physicians' literacy-promotion efforts just received a $6,000 one-year renewal grant from ‘First Book, Philadelphia LAB'—a non-profit advisory board that recommends reading projects for funding from the national ‘First Book,' program based in Washington, DC. This is the third consecutive year ‘First Book, Philadelphia LAB' has provided funding for the program.

According to Dr. Bennett, the purpose of the ‘Penn Family Care Reads' project is to encourage parents—especially those not in the culture of reading—to read to their children at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, starting at age six months or earlier.  In addition to providing many educational benefits, the program, says Dr. Bennett, is "an early medical intervention"—because studies have shown that adults who cannot read well have poorer health outcomes than those who can read well. "We are hopeful, therefore, that this program will lead to better health for these children in their adulthood," he adds.

The $6,000 renewal grant allows the ‘Penn Family Care Reads' program to earn credits to buy books, at a discounted rate, from the Scholastic Organization. Penn Family Care doctors, with offices at Presbyterian Medical Center, then distribute age-appropriate books to parents/guardians and kids during a well-child visit, a routine physical exam.  Presbyterian serves a low income West Philadelphia Community. At this time, doctors dispense prescriptions to the parents/guardians advising them of the importance of reading to their children and the health benefits they can gain as a result. Penn physicians will counsel parents/guardians on how to best stimulate an interest in reading in their children. A total of 12 books will be distributed to the children and their parents/guardians over the course of their preschool years, through first grade or about age five. 

"We expect to reach an additional 200 children in vulnerable families this year alone as a result of ‘First Book's' renewal funding," says Dr. Bennett.  "By sharing the joy of reading with their children, parents are laying the foundation for their children's lives.  It not only stimulates a life-long love of learning, but is likely to lead to improved health outcomes."



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 5, September 28, 2004


September 28, 2004
Volume 51 Number 5


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