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Reading, Writing and Healthier Kids

Literacy makes a major, lifelong difference in health, for reasons easy to grasp. If you can’t read, it will be hard, if not impossible, to learn how to care for your health and make sense of doctors’ and pharmacists’ instructions.

Unfortunately, one in five Americans has low literacy skills, defined by the U.S. Department of Education as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The barriers include learning disorders, English as a second language and low-quality schools.

At Nemours Children’s, we’re taking on this national challenge through Reading BrightStart! (NCRBS!). With the vision of helping every child become a reader, NCRBS! specializes in developing products, resources, and services based on research to promote a strong reading foundation for all children. Specifically, this includes unique and highly effective instructional curricula for infants through first grade, teacher training, and a for families to assist in closing the reading readiness achievement gap for diverse young learners. Developed in 2005 by our neuroscientists, we originally created curricula and resources for kids with dyslexia. As time went on, we realized the curricula is beneficial to all children. Our project has since grown dramatically. 

Today, NCRBS! curricula and resources for infants through first graders have reached more than 260,000 children in 38 states. 

Repeated, rigorous studies involving 3,300 children who had fallen behind in early literacy skills have shown that nearly two thirds of them caught up with their peers after using our programs.

“Our teachers love [Reading BrightStart!] because it’s so interactive and makes such a difference for the children,” says Mary Alice Hayes, Program Director for Five Learning Years (FLY) a division of Investing in Kids (INK!), an educational nonprofit organization supporting 13 schools in the Saint Augustine area near Jacksonville, Fla.

Kids love BrightStart! too, Hayes says — particularly the opportunity to learn in small groups and play with the educational toys [manipulative materials] that come with the curricula. Each program receives lesson plans and manipulative materials to support the learning activities. The kits include items like a sandbox for tracing letters, magnifying glasses, touch and trace gel boards and more. 

“There is something for every kind of learner, whether they’re visual, auditory, or tactile,” Hayes says. “The curriculum actually helps reveal that [learning style] for each child, which is useful for the teachers.”

More than 1,500 children have taken part in the curricula use over the nine years that INK! has used it, Hayes says.

“One thing we keep hearing from our teachers is about the mental health benefits of this program,” Hayes says. “As kids are able to speak up more in the small groups, they feel better about themselves — more confident and more accepted. And that confidence is so important as a foundation of learning.”

It's not standard practice for health care systems to have a team devoted to literacy that operates on a national level. But at Nemours, this unique program fits in with our mission to go “Well Beyond Medicine.”

“We think of Reading BrightStart! as being preventive medicine,” says Jamie Williams, Manager of Intellectual Property and Curriculum Design at Nemours. “When we can give children the foundational building blocks to read, they grow up to be healthier adults.”

For more information about curricula and teacher training to build reading readiness for children from infancy through first grade, contact NCRBS! at NemoursBrightStart@nemours.org.

In addition to curricula and resource materials for teachers, NCRBS! offers free resources for parents. From book recommendations and articles for parents to at-home activities and a free preschool reading screening, we have literacy covered for children from birth to 5 years old.

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