Reading club transforms pediatric waiting room

A child’s pediatric health visit to Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in Orange, CA, has been transformed into a vehicle to encourage the development of reading skills. According to Geeta Grover, MD, co-director of CHOCO’s Reading Club, studies show that reading aloud to children, beginning at an early age, is the single most important factor in preventing early reading problems.

"We saw this as a unique opportunity to help children and their families," says Amy Waddell, public relations manager for the hospital. "As we all know, poor reading skills can have a detrimental effect upon a family. If parents are unable to read information about a child’s medication or read instructions about caring for their child, it can have a serious negative impact. Likewise, we know that intervening in the critical years of reading development for a child can have a positive, lifelong impact. That is why we decided to implement a reading program and become affiliated with the national Reach Out and Read program."

"When Exhibit Works approached the hospital asking for a way they could become involved and contribute, it was a natural match to have them donate their talents to make our pediatric clinic waiting room into a reading clubhouse," Waddell explains.

Waddell says that the new clubhouse has a combination of urban and rural motifs designed to make children and families feel welcome. Exhibit Works donated services valued in excess of $250,000 to create the child-friendly environment. The clubhouse features an urban alphabet city with colorful skyscrapers and a bookstore in which children can fill "prescriptions" for new books and where reading tables resemble manhole covers. Across a carpet river, a forest reveals a rural, woodsy space with upholstered lily pads and toadstools for seats and a mushroom cap canopy illuminates a storytelling area. The clubhouse has a staff member on-site at all times, as well as a volunteer to read stories to the children.

How it works

"While children and families wait for their appointment, there are several activities going on. They can participate in the activities, or they can read by themselves or have their parent read to them," Waddell says. "This helps alleviate the stress some children experience when they visit a clinic. In fact, we’ve been told that it’s sometimes difficult to get the child away from the activities to see the physician. This environment creates a pattern in which a child looks forward to coming to the clinic instead of dreading it."

As a part of the appointment, the pediatrician discusses the importance of reading with the family, writes a reading "prescription" that is filled after the appointment. The child receives a new book at each well-child visit to the clinic up to the age of six. Private groups, corporations, and individuals donate the books. Eventually, a child builds a personal library while building strong reading skills.

Setting a course for a child’s future

The hospital’s newsletter says that "because of the regularity of the contact, the close nature of the parent-professional relationship and parent[al] expectation to receive guidance, the pediatric health visit is an ideal context in which to promote behaviors that support language and literacy development. Having a trusted physician give a book and [impart] role-model positive reading behaviors is important to parents. It validates their aspirations for the child to be a learner, to do well in school and in life."

Another positive aspect of the program is that it encourages parents to spend more time reading with their children, improve their reading skills, interact more with their children, or learn to read if they do not know how.

To learn more about CHOCO’s Reading Club, call (714) 532-8656, or visit the Web site at www. choc.org.