Prescription to Read unlocks unique relationship benefits

Dr. Anna Ziemer reads to her son JohnnyIt’s easy to see why Anna Ziemer, MD, feels strongly about utilizing the Prescription to Read program for pediatric patients and parents.

That’s because often the first thing she does with her 17-month-old son, Johnny, when she goes home is crack open a book for them to read together. He sits on her lap or near his mother as they leaf through the pages. Johnny has always pointed to the bright colors. Then he began making noises when he would see his favorite animals.

Now he asks for his favorite books by name.

“It’s amazing and fun to see his development through reading,” Dr. Ziemer said. “As a pediatric physician it's obvious how much these kids love books when they pick out one in the office through the Prescription to Read program.

“To see the difference books make, in the office as well as at home, confirmed my feelings about continuing this amazing program.”

Donations from Carle physicians launched Prescription to Read in 2010. The program is now funded through a $16,100 grant from the PNC Grow Up Great Foundation.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support from the PNC Grow Up Great Foundation for their trust in this program and belief that families need tools like books to enhance their children’s learning and development,” said Pam Hulten, director of Annual Funds and Corporate Relations for Carle Center for Philanthropy.

Nurse practitioner Janet Mohr began working in Pediatrics 23 years ago and with Prescription to Read when it began at Carle. 

Since the program started, she’s seen wide-ranging benefits.

Pediatric nurse practitioner Janet MohrFor example, the simple practice of handing out a book to a young patient helps providers during an injection or procedure. It serves as a fun distraction.

More importantly, these books prove Carle’s willingness to go beyond practical care elements.

“The youngest patients learn that the book isn’t only something to chew on," Mohr said. "Eighteen-month-olds scan a page, spot something interesting and say, ‘Oooh, mommy look!’ So many of these youngsters go through the entire book with us, and they can’t wait to get to the next page."

Dr. Ziemer and other providers also take advantage of this instant feedback.

She said younger children develop language skills through repetition and reading. For older patients, the physicians change up the process and tell parents to ask questions to check on comprehension levels.

As they prep for kindergarten, books can help families focus on body development, as well.

Also important to its success are bilingual books provided in Spanish and French that serve a unique part of our community’s population.

“We can often see families recognize the growth occurring right in our offices," Dr. Ziemer said.  "These are important moments, and books provide a moment to snuggle, nurture and focus on something together.

“This improves not only linguistic skills, but also cognitive and emotional development.”

In support of the program, Hulten cited a landmark study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. They found certain traits develop when emphasizing reading between the ages 0-3. For example, some children hear 30 million more words than others during these ages. This translates by the third grade into bigger vocabularies, better reading skills and higher test scores.

The same study also showed that reading rates by third grade become the best predictor of high school graduation. But two-thirds of children in the United States, and 80 percent of those below the poverty line, fail to develop reading proficiency by the third grade.

In contrast, both Dr. Ziemer and Mohr have seen the reaction on the faces of these parents and children as they receive a pleasant surprise in the doctor’s office.

It’s clear to them the difference Prescription to Read makes on a daily basis.

“It’s amazing to have the kind of support this program provides," Mohr said. “When we bring patients a book, they put their name on that label and they see that Carle and PNC Bank supplied that book.

“By the time these patients are 19 months old, we have created a bit of a tradition within that family.”