Before he leaves the doctor's office, 6-month-old Jacob Granado will get a checkup and shots. But the first thing Dr. Sara Purdy gives him is a book.
Purdy squats next to the exam table to be at the baby's level, holds out a brightly colored copy of "Baby's ABC," and smiles as Jacob starts to explore the book with his wide eyes and tiny hands. "What is that? What do you think, huh?" she asks her patient before turning her focus to Jacob's mom.
"Do you guys have books at home?" Purdy asks. Jacob's mom nods. "So the recommendation is to read to kids for 20 minutes every day at least, if not more." Babies may not want to hear the stories, the doctor adds, but even picking up books and chewing on them can be good for infants because putting objects in their mouths is how they learn.
The safety net clinic where Purdy works, Salina Family Healthcare Center, gets free books for young patients through Turn a Page, Touch a Mind – a statewide program that helps doctors emphasize the importance of reading so that children will enter school with the skills to succeed.
Since 2003, the Kansas Health Foundation has given $6.65 million in grants to help develop and implement this program across the state with the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the academy's charitable arm, the Kansas Pediatric Foundation. Thanks to those grants as well as ongoing donations from Kansans, the Kansas Pediatric Foundation now has established Turn a Page, Touch a Mind at 45 sites in 21 counties.
About 75,000 books are distributed each year to Kansas children ages 6 months to 5 years through this program, says executive director Chris Steege.
"Basically, we're looking at serving as many low-income children as possible," Steege says. "This program is loved by everyone. It's just a win-win situation."
Sometimes heartstrings are tugged when children get books at the Salina Family Healthcare Center, says Alice Brown, the nursing supervisor who oversees the program there.
"We've had some tearful moments when the kids or the parents are so thankful because they've never owned a brand new book in their whole lives," Brown says. "I think it's such a great part of the total care they get here."
As 3-year-old Jose Aranda and his mom wait for Dr. Ross Kimball, Jose looks through some picture books kept in the exam room.
But when the doctor offers him a book and turns some of the pages, Jose clings to his mom and hides his face. "Well, maybe you and your mom can read this when you get home, OK, buddy?" Dr. Kimball says, handing the book to her.
Dr. Scott Owings, associate director of the residency program, says there are so many things to cover with each patient, the books also serve as a visual cue for the clinic's doctors to make sure to talk about reading.
"We have stickers that we give out at appointments too, and kids like the stickers, but they like the books a whole lot more," he says.
Over the next couple of years, Steege plans to include more sites in this program. Interested healthcare providers can download an application at www.kansaspediatricfoundation.org.
"Because of the number of sites, we are moving in a very upward direction for the number of kids who are ready to start reading when they enter kindergarten," Steege says. "With the help of the Kansas Health Foundation, we have been able to create a model that is sustainable for many years to come."