Pediatricians prescribe reading for kids, families


 By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle staff


Read a book; It's good for you.

That's the message being delivered by at least five Berkshire County pediatrics offices during November, Family Literacy Month -- and throughout the year.

"It is critical that we continue to ensure that our youngest patients here in Berkshire County are being exposed to books and that their parents understand the important role reading aloud plays both in their child's development and ultimately in their ability to succeed in school," said Dr. Marc McDermott of Northern Berkshire Pediatrics in North Adams.

His office, as well as Berkshire Pediatric Associates in Pittsfield, Suburban Internal Medicine in Lee, Macony Pediatrics and Community Health Program, both in Great Barrington, participate in a national program called Reach Out and Read.

"Pediatricians and nurses throughout Berkshire County will continue to send families home from checkups with free books and a very important prescription -- Read aloud to your children," said Laurie Flynn, Western Massachusetts coordinator for Reach Out and Read.

The national nonprofit program provides free, developmentally appropriate books to children, from 6 months to age 5, every time they have a wellness visit with a participating pediatrician's office.

"We even have extras if siblings are with them. It's a wonderful program," said Lynn DeSanty, a licensed practical nurse. She coordinates the Reach Out and Read program for Northern Berkshire Pediatrics, which now also serves patients of Williamstown Medical Associates, since the offices merged.

DeSanty submits a report every three months about the number of patients seen. She said the office distributes between 600 and 800 books every three to four months.

The office waiting area has a corner with a bookshelf for any one there to use. DeSanty said she hopes one day to have community volunteers to regularly come in and read to children and families while they are waiting.

Flynn said she hopes more Berkshire County pediatric practices will also join the Reach Out and Read movement, which is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a 2000 study published by members of the Department of Pediatrics at Rhode Island Hospital, researchers found that families participating in the Reach Out and Read model were more likely to read to their children (4.3 versus 3.8 days per week). Other studies showed that reading to toddlers increases their receptive and expressive vocabulary, an even more so in children from bilingual families.

Last year, the program, which uses books by publisher Scholastic, received an $800,000 state grant to serve children at 265 locations across Massachusetts, reaching more than 191,000 infants, toddlers and preschoolers each year. In Berkshire County, doctors are able to reach over 3,500 children and families each year.


About Reach Out and Read

To learn more about Reach Out and Read, visit

To participate in Reach Out and Read or donate children's books to the program, contact Laurie Flynn at Laurie.flynn@

To learn more about Family Literacy Month, visit