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Making a Difference

Local reading program encourages early exposure

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By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9

Parents are their children's first and most important teachers. One program in the area is teaching parents how they can make a difference in their child's development.

The Reach Out and Read organization recognizes how key parents are in the education of their children. The nonprofit, national, organization holds local programs at a number of locations in Oklahoma, including the OU Children's Physicians, Pediatric Care Center.

Encouraging parents to read out loud at home should come shortly after children are born. And parents should read to their children often.

"So even though it may get boring for you all, just keep reading the same book over and over," said Pediatrician Marny Dunlap.

The benefits of reading to your children while they are young will show up later on in life added Dr. Dunlap.

The Wilson's began reading aloud to their daughter Rustee after visiting Dr. Dunlap. Now at 19-months-old, Rustee is in love with books.

"She's got a special chair she sits in and looks at her books," said Jamie Wilson, Rustee's mother. "She plays with her toys too, but not as much as her books."

Through the Reach Out and Read program, every time a child visits a doctor at the OU's Pediatric Care Center, the child gets a book to take home and keep. Volunteers even read aloud to kids in the waiting room.

"In Oklahoma, about 25 to 30 percent of our children don't start school ready to read, or ready to start kindergarten," said Dr. Dunlap. "That's about the same number that fail their 3rd or 4th grade reading scores. And about the same number in Oklahoma that drop out of high school."

And the research is a testament to the program's success. The American Journal of Diseases and Children reports families in the program were "four times more likely to report reading aloud." And the scientific journal Pediatrics reports "significant increases in language scores... both for speaking and understanding."

"Exposing to books at such a young age, and having somebody there to let you know that this is what needs to be done really helps," said Rusty Wilson, Rustee's father.

Smart Start Central Oklahoma helps find funding to buy books for Reach Out and Read. And Smart Start just received a grant from Target to help fund programs in our community to encourage healthy childhood development.

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