An Interview with Katie Swec: Reaching Out to Read

Jul 27, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

In April, Katie Swec was named the Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Los Angeles. In this role, the35-year-old pediatrician helps coordinate organizational plans, outreach goals, and provider training for her city’s arm of the national school readiness organization.

Katie Swec Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Los Angeles


Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

In addition, Swec is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the Reach Out and Read Program Coordinator at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Department of Pediatrics, where she practices both inpatient and outpatient pediatrics. Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s Reach Out and Read Program serves more than 6,000 children through the age of 5 each year at pediatric checkups.

Swec lives with her husband and 2-year-old daughter in the Los Angeles area . Below, she shares her thoughts on the importance of reading aloud.

1. How did you get involved with this great organization?

Initially, I was introduced to Reach Out and Read in 2006, when I was an active duty pediatrician at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. I was asked by our department leadership to work on the application to become a Reach Out and Read Site through the then-new Military Initiative.

The more I learned about Reach Out and Read, the more I fell in love with the program. I assisted in coordinating the program at both the main Naval Medical Center Clinic and at a satellite location.

  1. In your mind why is it important for parents to read to kids?

Through reading, parents create the foundation that will allow their children to fulfill their potential in all things in life. If their children are successful in reading, then they are going to be successful in school –and eventually in life.

Reading is one of the most important gifts a parent can give to a child. And Reach Out and Read is one of the most successful ways to make this happen. The model is backed by 14 studies in peer-reviewed medical journals.

We know that children served by Reach Out and Read show significant developmental gains in language and a six-month developmental edge over their peers in the preschool years. They also score higher on vocabulary tests and school readiness assessments.

  1. Why is it important for kids to see parents read?

Modeling is so important – it’s such a basic part of infant and early childhood development. For example, toddlers naturally imitate everything their parents do — whether it’s washing dishes or reading books. If they see their parents embrace books and reading, they will likely want to do the same.

  1. What about poetry? I go into the school and read poems- but why do kids find them so alluring?

Poetry, especially rhyming poetry, is great for kids! Children are naturally drawn to rhymes because they help kids remember words more easily, and help them to understand how words are put together.

Rhymes help children learn sentence structure and families of words. And rhyming poems are fun! They keep children engaged and interested in learning.

  1. What is going on this summer in terms of events?

Reach Out and Read is once again hosting its “Summer of a Million Books.” We started on June 21 and will work through International Literacy Day on Sept. 8 to distribute one million books to the children we serve nationwide. The campaign was recently featured on NBC!

Locally, both the Los Angeles Public Library and the County of Los Angeles Public Library are hosting Summer Reading Programs. Also, some of our area Barnes & Noble stores have Summer Reading Imagination’s Destination initiative that’s a great way to get children excited about reading!

And, TheWiggles are coming to town on Aug. 14! Reach Out and Read is the official nonprofit partner of The Wiggles Summer 2011 tour. A portion of the proceeds from all ticket sales will be used to support Reach Out and Read Programs across the country.

In Los Angeles, the shows are set for 12:30pm and 4:00 pm at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

  1. Reading helps kids learn sounds, vowels, consonants, prefixes, suffixes and gets kids actively involved. Why is this better than television?

Television is passive learning, while reading is active learning. While reading, children can learn at their own pace, and take time to think critically about certain words and concepts. Because television flashes before their eyes, they don’t have time for critical reflection. Children often zone out in front of the television, which does not allow them to develop the necessary early language skills they will need to succeed in school.

We also know that children learn a much broader vocabulary by reading than by watching television.

And the nurturing and one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.

  1. What have I neglected to ask?

For parents, it’s not necessarily just reading the words on the page that’s important. It’s the act of the child hearing a parent’s voice and spending quality time with a parent. If a parent has limited reading ability, they can still describe pictures to a child, tell family folktales, sing, or even just talk about trees and birds during a walk in the stroller. They do not have be sitting down and reading words on a page for language development to happen.

I also want to point parents to local libraries as a fantastic resource for free books and toddler/family story hours that can help teach parents how to read to their children.

  1. Where can parents get more information?

Reach Out and Read’s website has a great selection of reading tips, doctor-recommended book lists, and other helpful reading information for parents. We also post the latest literacy news on Facebook and Twitter. For Los Angeles-specific information, parents should visit the Reach Out and Read Los Angeles website.

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