Regular medical checkups ensure children stay healthy during their early development, plus receive proper vaccinations.

As a certified family nurse practitioner at Willamette Health Partners Family Medicine clinic in Keizer, I use that opportunity to talk to parents and kids about a likely unexpected topic—the importance of reading.

Reading every day is as important for children as brushing their teeth. Early literacy in kids leads to future success in life.

Developing early literacy is also important for Marion County. An October 2014 study found:

Fifty-nine percent of the students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools were living in poverty. (A strong correlation exists between poverty and literacy.)
Nineteen percent of the students spoke English as a second language.

Studies show that achieving literacy by third grade is an important benchmark. It also indicates how well they will do in high school. A team effort strives to tackle that challenge in different ways.

Willamette Health Partners recently made a commitment to promote the Reach Out and Read program at its six family medicine clinics. The successful national program discovered a strong link between building vocabulary and introducing books to children from ages six months through five years.

Children receive an age-appropriate book during their checkup, while parents go home with handouts that stress the importance of reading to their child every day. Kids love getting the books and parents appreciate that we’re not just checking off boxes during the exam. They realize we want their child to succeed in all areas.

The program encourages families to read together 20 minutes a day—and afterward ask kids to express what they’ve learned.

The Marion-Polk County Medical Society provided funding for the program’s first year, which covered the cost of buying 2,000 books.

We have so much opportunity to expand the program. Our main limitation is that families need to come to the clinic to be exposed to it. That’s where the Community Health Education Center (CHEC) at Salem Hospital comes in.

Promoting early literacy falls directly in line with Salem Health’s mission to support the community. CHEC staffers are exploring possible story times for kids, along with fun themed events like puppet shows.

Plans are also forming to serve children in Polk County. The new school-based Central Health and Wellness Center in Independence could become an outlet to encourage early literacy.

It is a privilege for me to see children at such a critical time of their young lives—now with the added opportunity of sharing the joy of reading.

Meanwhile, medical providers gain a different focus by promoting early literacy. We become part of a greater cause knowing these kids will become part of society—and we want them to succeed.

(Julianne Brock, FNP-C, is a certified family nurse practitioner with Willamette Health Partners Family Medicine clinic in Keizer.)