— By CHRISTIN COYNE
Reading and education is something that Kimberly Strickland, a Weatherford family medicine doctor, is passionate about.
Outside of her office, Strickland currently gives hands-on health and science presentations to preschool and kindergarten age children but has decided to bring educational opportunities to her own new practice, as well.
Strickland recently began giving away free books to her young patients, who make up about half her practice, and arranged for her colleagues with the Lone Star Medical Group to do the same, as well, through the national Reach Out and Read program.
The hope is not only to give something to kids to read but to educate parents on the benefits of reading to children early, according to Strickland.
During her pediatric rotations as a medical student, Strickland said they would give books to children during their well child check-up.
“I thought that was just standard,” Strickland said.
After starting her practice in Weatherford earlier this year, Strickland said she discovered that it was a national nonprofit program that partners with medical providers to promote literacy by giving children new books and educating parents about reading to children.
According to the organization’s website, Reach Out and Read began in Boston in 1989 and currently partners with 5,000 sites to distribute about 6.5 million books each year.
“Education is so important,” Strickland said. “It has allowed me to become a doctor ... I know how important it is to start really young.”
The doctors participating in the program, which provides grant money to help pay for the books, first learn how to explain how to parents the importance of early reading, Strickland said.
“When a first-time mother brings a child into the doctor’s office, she often doesn’t really know when to start reading to them,” Strickland said.
They recommend starting when a child is 6 months old, she said.
They also talk about how to do it with children of different ages.
Doctors will demonstrate to parents how to read to a 6-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, Strickland said.
“You don’t want it to be a chore,” Strickland said. “You want it to be fun and pleasurable.”
While children are naturally drawn to books, it’s OK that children walk away when they get bored, Strickland said.
The books they offer to children are also age-appropriate, according to Strickland.
For infants, they offer a soft, squishy, vinyl book that they can chew and slobber on, Strickland said.
Depending on the child’s reading level, they also give away books for pre-readers and preschool and kindergarten-age children.
She also has magazines or books on hand for older children, according to Strickland.
Reading aloud to children at a young age has many benefits, Strickland said.
It can help children bond with their guardian, teach them the story and ideas, and help children practice social interaction and social skills such as learning to be quiet and listen, Strickland said.
Reading aloud at a young age also helps children learn to read, Strickland said, adding that some 2-year-olds know some words by sight.
Though the national program is targeting younger children, Strickland said she has used her own money to purchase books for older readers, as well.
Perhaps the most fun part of program is the happy surprise for the children and parents.
“There’s just so much joy and happiness” when kids learn they can take the book home, Strickland said.
Another part of the program is keeping age appropriate books in the lobby.
“By end of day, there’s books scattered everywhere,” Strickland said of the items on her five-shelf bookcase.
Sometimes children ask to keep those, as well.
“I’m not going to say no,” Strickland said.
Though some of the doctors were still in the process in early December of going through the education process necessary to receive the books, Strickland said she is currently giving away books she has purchased with her own money.
Others in the community, such as Weatherford Regional Medical Center, have pledged support and, as other doctors join her, she hopes the program will grow.