Steamboat Springs Stephanie Rodriguez is only 1, but she began her relationship with books 11 months ago.
Her mother, Azucena Rodriguez, said her daughter already is well beyond putting the corners of books in her mouth: she’s already begun turning the pages on her own.
On Tuesday at Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs, Azucena Rodriguez learned that the doctor’s office is launching a program to help sustain and support young children’s relationships with books.
Pediatrics of Steamboat is now one of 4,654 health care centers nationwide to offer the Reach Out and Read program, which encourages early introduction to literacy with free books and counseling about bonding with children through reading.
“We’re not just here to be doctors,” practice manager Nikki Casteel said. “We’re here to support physical, mental and educational health. As providers, that’s our responsibility.”
Involvement in the program includes a library of books arranged by age range. The freshly stiff and unopened titles stacked in Casteel’s office feature childhood favorites such as “Goodnight Moon” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
Reach Out and Read pays for 65 percent of the book expenses, and the office picks up the rest of the tab.
The doctors and physician assistants are trained by professionals to help counsel parents about how to read to their children and using books as a teaching tool. In addition, Casteel plans to volunteer her time in the waiting room to read to children while they await their appointments. She would welcome other volunteers, as well.
“I could use a little kid time,” said Casteel, a mother of two.
She said it’s important to sow the seeds of literacy long before a child learns to read.
From the tactile element of touching a book to the communication, social, emotional and fine motor skills that go into a shared reading session, early exposure to books has been proven to be a benefit to young children.
But according to Reach Out and Read, more than one-third of children entering kindergarten lack adequate language skills needed to learn to read.
Casteel said the program was designed for low-income families, which statistically lack the same access to reading materials that more affluent families have.
However, she said children from all backgrounds would be thrilled to receive their free book at each check-up beginning at age 6 months.
“Some of them won’t even know what it is, but they’ll get so excited,” she said.
In the waiting room Tuesday afternoon, Casteel was flipping through a book of fairytales with 7-year-old patient Jaslin Maldonado while her father, Juan Carlos Maldonado, watched.
“She reads more than me,” he said. “She’s good.”
Azucena Rodriguez said she hopes Stephanie will develop that same relationship with books, and she looks forward to the program that will provide her daughter with extra encouragement and exposure to books.
“I want her to be smart,” Rodriguez said.
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org