Pediatricians at the Children's Clinic have started giving books to their young patients in an effort to promote and improve early childhood literacy in Billings.
Part of the national program Reach Out and Read, children who come in for their regular check-ups between six months and 5 years of age — roughly 10 visits — will receive a free book each time.
"We really feel this is important," said Shannon Steppler-Yonts, a pediatrician at the Clinic.
Through the program, the doctors receive training in how to present the books and communicate to parents the importance of reading to children.
"Unfortunately, not all parents know," said Carol Burton, president of the United Way of Yellowstone County.
The Children's Clinic partnered with the United Way of Yellowstone County and Border States Electric to bring Reach Out and Read to Billings. Border States donated $27,500, enough to keep the program going for two years.
The United Way anticipates that Children's Clinic doctors will give out 10,000 books over those two years.
"The link between supportive parental involvement and children’s early literacy is well documented," said Gayle Whittenberg, United Way's director of development. "Everything parents can do to support a child's language and literacy counts toward success in school and in life, according to experts on the subject."
Officials believe that using pediatricians to "prescribe" the books gives weight to the admonition that parents should read regularly to their young children.
"It's someone that they trust," Steppler-Yonts said.
It's vital that families make books and reading for young children a priority, she said.
Dennis Sulser, administrator of the Children's Clinic, agreed. Sulser was principal at West High before he became a medical center administrator.
"Early education is proven and successful," he said.