Demarion Hayes sits quietly in a chair in the examining room waiting for Dr. Jasmin Morrison to begin.
He’s had his temperature and blood pressure taken by a nurse at the Genesis Family Medical Center in Davenport.
The 5-year-old looks up with wide eyes as Morrison addresses Demarion, his parents and older brother and sister.
“How’s everybody doing today?”
Demarion, who is entering kindergarten, eyes two slim books on the examining table.
Morrison reaches for the top one, the popular “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss, and hands it to the bespectacled boy.
Demarion opens the book and quickly leafs through the pages, his eyes locked on the words and pictures.
Morrison continues with the exam, using the book as an evaluation tool.
“What’s this color?” she asks.
“Yellow,” he answers correctly.
She points to pages in the book, asking him about letters of the alphabet and numbers. His answers are on the mark. Morrison continues the exam, talking to his mother, Megan Payne, about general medical issues.
Demarion, grasping the book tightly, continues to turn the pages. He knows he can take the book home.
Demarion is a textbook case for the effectiveness of Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit program that had its beginnings more than two decades ago when several doctors in Boston looked at the sterile environment of their waiting rooms and began to stock them with children’s books.
Reach Out and Read, which is active in the Quad-Cities, trains medical providers on using new, age-appropriate children’s books as part of well-child exams, starting at the age of 6 months. At the end of each exam, the child can take the book home. By the time they reach kindergarten, they have anywhere from eight to 10 books they can call their own.
But the program is much more than an opportunity to give away books.
“We really capitalize on the time the physician has in the exam room with the family,” says Nancy Berman, interim public awareness manager for the national Reach Out and Read program.
“We have to get these young parents the important information that you should be reading and talking to your children at an early age. Parents needed the feedback to see how children reacted with the book to give them impetus to read to them at home.”
The program is showing results.
“We’re finding that these kids are getting a six-month boost in their language,” Berman said. “We have seen that there’s more book reading together.”
Payne has witnessed the positive effects of family reading with her children, who also include Demarquis, 10, and MaKaree, 6.
“She’s always got some kind of book,” Payne says of MaKaree. “She’s so proud to be reading chapter books.”
And Demarquis, who brought a “Pirates of the Caribbean” book to read in the waiting room as he sat next to his father, Demarcus Hanes, said his younger sister likes to read to him.
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“They encourage one another so greatly,” Payne says.
Dr. Jamie Christopherson, a pediatrician and co-medical director of Reach Out and Read Iowa, speaks passionately about the science that explains why it’s so important to read to children early and often.
“The brain changes so quickly the first 1,000 days,” she says. "Babies need to have the experience of being read to: being held, listening to a parent's voice, looking at pictures and marks on a page, making sounds and receiving a response.
"When brain connections from these early experiences are formed and strengthened, the framework is established for developing more and more complex skills of reading and language. If these connections are not used, the brain prunes them away and they are lost," she says.
Christopherson said almost 30,000 books have been given away to local children in the program’s first six years. In addition, Reach Out and Read stocks the waiting rooms of its participating medical centers with gently used children’s books, which kids can take home.
The program, which is in three medical clinics in Davenport, will add two Community Health Care sites in Illinois and likely several more clinics, thanks to a $33,700 grant from the United Way of the Quad-Cities Area. The funds will target medical facilities that serve a higher percentage of low-income families.
It's just one of many prongs in the United Way’s efforts to bring all Quad-Cities children up to grade-level reading proficiency by third grade, considered a crucial benchmark to future academic success.
Other programs include the skills inventory of kindergarten readiness, Imagination Library (a free book distribution program) and support for the expansion of preschool programs in the Quad-Cities.
“It’s not only the giving of the book, but the conversation between the parents and the physician,” Scott Crane, CEO of the United Way of the Quad-Cities Area, says of the Reach Out and Read program. “Parents are the key to making sure their kids are getting what they need.”
Crane says Reach Out and Read is a good fit for the United Way's educational goals.
It’s MaKaree’s turn with Dr. Morrison.
Morrison hands her a copy of “Katy No-Pocket” by Emmy Payne, which the girl holds like a treasure, starting to turn the pages.
MaKaree remains buried in the book while Morrison asks her, “How did school go?”
Not getting an answer, she smiles, “You are the bookworm.”
“Thank you,” MaKaree answers quietly with a smile.
Morrison asks her to read a few lines. She watches carefully, assisting with a word here and there as the girl reads.
“She’s doing pretty darn good,” Morrison said.
While MaKaree’s exam continues, Demarion sits in the corner with his new book.
“What does this say?” he shouts out.
A graduate of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Morrison has been a resident with the Genesis Family Practice program for several years and has seen tangible results with Reach Out and Read.
"When the child catches on, the parents get so proud," Morrison said.
And that pride translates into parents doing more reading with their children at home.
"To see the parents incorporating what they see here, that's the best part for me," she said.