The 1st chapter of the READ Literacy Program

The simple act of reading to children has lifelong benefits, and thanks to your donation to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba the READ literacy program has impacted thousands of kids and their families in just the first year.

February 2019 marks the fourth anniversary of this important program, championed by committee chair Dr. Celia Rodd, who says the need for such a program is undeniable.

“Literacy rates are frighteningly low across Canada,” says Dr. Rodd. “They’re also quite low in many areas of Winnipeg, and we know as pediatricians that it makes a difference when health care professionals can talk to parents about it. They listen to us and they trust our advice, so this program gives us a wonderful opportunity to make a difference.”

Programs like READ are endorsed by both the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics, because they work. Kids who have been read to at a young age are better prepared when they arrive at school, with larger and more effective vocabularies. It’s also a low cost option that can appeal to everyone

“Manitoba is at the bottom in literacy, we have huge problems with poverty as well, and education and literacy is the only road out of poverty,” remarks Dr. Atul Sharma, READ committee member. “This is an extremely cost effective intervention that has been studied and we know is effective.”

Through the READ program, pediatricians-in-training (residents) are encouraged to put reading on par with vaccines, tooth care and nutrition. Emma Robin, Coordinator of Children’s Hospital Family Libraries and READ committee member, is thrilled to put reading on par with health.

“I get to work with the residents,” explains Emma, “and I find when I’m working with the doctors I tend to describe it as a prescription for reading. If you prescribe 20 minutes a day spent with books, it puts it in a language that everyone, including parents, can understand. It’s as important as any other prescription.”

With the support of the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the READ program has experienced substantial expansion in its inaugural year.

“More than 3500 families have been in contact with the program,” says Dr. Rodd. “We started in the clinic, but over the past year we have expanded into the intensive care unit, the waiting areas and the in-patient wards.”

“I don’t think any of us would have imagined that we’d make so much progress in one year,” adds Dr. Sharma. “There are very few Children’s Hospitals across the country that offers programs like this. The support from the foundation and the community has been beyond our expectations.”

In the past year, 36 residents received instruction on promoting early childhood literacy. Information is shared with families through one on one conversations and a litany of resources including pamphlets with tips for different aged children, a book to keep, and a voucher for a 2nd book redeemable at any Winnipeg Public Library. This voucher system allows the child to not only build up a library of books, but also exposes families to the many community resources available at public libraries, creating a powerful synergy.

READ committee member Dr. Elske Hildes Ripstein, has directly experienced the tremendous benefits of the program;

“I think one of the really unique things about our program is that we enable the parents through a book that they can take home and use,” says Dr. Hildes-Ripstein. “I’m not confident that all our families have books at home, and this gives them the tools and shows them that their kids really are interested in books and want to engage with them – even if it starts with just enjoying the pictures. There are lots of benefits to having a book given at the same time as you are delivering the information about the importance of literacy and reading with your kids.”

Not only does the READ program effectively deliver the importance of early childhood literacy, it’s also proving to be an awful lot of fun.

“I get to come in to the Children’s Clinic waiting room with my cart and everyone’s really excited to see all of the colourful books,” explains Emma. “We turn off the TV and the video games, and the parents come over and help the kids pick out a book. It’s a lovely experience. The kids can’t believe they get to keep the books. They really love it!”

The READ program has expanded to include staff reading to sick kids in ICU and even on the in-house television network.

“We have noticed that when it comes to the READ program, nobody says no,” remarks Dr. Rodd. “We now include reading a book as part of the programming on our in-house children’s television network. We have asked the entire READ committee to read a book, we’ve had the Dean of Medicine, the Head of Pediatrics, the former Chair of Pediatrics  and even the Accountant sit down in front of the camera and read a book. People really love being a part of the program.”

Others that have supplied tremendous support have been Drs. Val Brule, Annika Klopp, Oana Florescu, Miriam Katzman (all pediatric residents), Aviva Goldberg, Heather Mackenzie and Ida-Marie Poitras, Renee Ethans and Blair Nicholls as READ committee members.

It is that love for the program, and the financial support of donors, that will propel the READ program even further in its 4th year.

Future plans include further developing a relationship with Frontier College, which runs summer camps to help maintain reading skills.  The program also hopes to partner with some of the northern communities where care is provided by our hospital based pediatricians.

The READ program also sets the stage for an increasingly necessary conversation;

“I think it’s a great opportunity to start that conversation that a computer or a tablet is different than a book on your lap and an interactive session with a parent,” agrees Dr. Hildes-Ripstein.  “It’s starting to be understood that when you sit and actually read a book with a child certain pathways in the brain get activated that are important for future education and learning. Those things can’t be replaced by technology.”

A return to one on one bonding time is at the heart of the READ program.

“We are not teaching kids how to read, but it’s about making books fun for families,” says Emma. “It’s more about getting back to basics. It’s so refreshing, as a library coordinator, to see books cool again, and there is a science behind it. There is a reason why books will never disappear. The tangible, cuddling and bonding that takes place when you read together is invaluable.”

Dr. Rodd believes the hands on approach is instrumental to the success of the READ program.

“It’s not just the giving of books,” explains Dr. Rodd, “but also that personal touch and explaining and role modelling that helps to make books a part of the family. This program is effective on so many levels.”

Thanks to your donations the READ program has been able to expand the types of books available to include a diverse selection of languages and ages, promising further expansion and engagement in the years to come.

If you want to make an impact in a designated area of the hospital, it’s so easy to do! Contact our staff at 204-787-4000.