Jaden Bigelow, 7, had one foot in a cast but it hardly slowed his beeline to the book cart at Harborview’s Children and Teens Clinic.
“Do you have any ‘I Spy’ or ‘Where’s Waldo?’ ” he asked a staffer.
In its 11th year, the hospital’s pediatric literacy program
introduces young children to Madeleine, the Lorax and other characters. It also helps kids better understand choices and make healthy ones.
“We’re looking at kids in terms of their total health,” said Dr. Brian Johnston, Harborview’s pediatrics chief and a UW associate professor of pediatrics. “Education has a big effect on their well-being. Literacy opens doors and keeps kids from early pregnancy and out of the juvenile justice system. It gives them a better chance to be economically self-sufficient.
“In keeping with the pediatric model of preventive interventions that will have repercussions throughout a child’s lifespan, I think promoting literacy is something that makes sense,” Johnston said. Books are distributed to patients at both the Children and Teens and Family Medicine clinics.
With each visit to Harborview, parents get a “prescription” encouraging them to find a regular time to share books with their child. The child is given a book to take home for keeps.
“I read every day,” Jaden said, his eyes darting across Highlights for Children magazine.
In 2008 Harborview gave more than 2,500 new books and 7,500 used books, said Deanna Clark, who has coordinated the literacy program for three years. An additional 800 books were distributed at the hospital’s Children’s Holiday Party.
“Some kids start school and have never had a book of their own. We help them build a little library,” Clark said.
Harborview runs the program through the Patient and Family Resource Center
. Public solicitations by sellers, such as Barnes & Noble, Borders and Half Price Books, help keep the carts full. Harborview employees contribute new or gently used books and via payroll deductions that buy books.
Clark credited the clinics’ staff with keeping the program going strong. “We get excited—it’s good to see a child be thrilled to take home a new book,” she said.
Reading has direct implications for health care, too. Low literacy keeps many adults from responding appropriately to medical information, data suggest. Literacy or language issues can leave patients uncertain about medical instructions and hesitant to seek clarification.
“Kids who are able to read end up being grownups who can read,” Clark said. “If you’re an adult and can’t read, it’s difficult to follow directions to take your medicine. You can end up making yourself sick, so literacy is very important.”
For more information about the literacy program or to donate new books, call 206.744.6912, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org