Reading Out Loud: AAP Offers Literacy Guidelines

In an effort to promote early literacy, last month the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that, during doctor visits, pediatricians should remind parents to read to aloud to their children.

“One of most important skills that a child can learn is language,” says Peggy Sissel-Phelan, co-founder and board member of Reach Out and Read Arkansas, which provides books to children beginning at age six months through doctor visits.

“Language develops naturally but not all children learn all the same kinds of words or the number of words. It’s important that parents be talking and reading to their children.”

Sissel-Phelan says socio-economics has a major impact on literacy, and children from low-income families hear far fewer words than children from higher income families.

But, she says, it goes beyond hearing the words. Instead, dialogue and idea exchange are essential for children to learn to question and express themselves. This is particularly important in Arkansas, where about half of children are not school ready by the time they reach kindergarten.

Reach Out and Read, which has partnered with 37 clinics in the state and reaches about 63,000 children annually, uses physicians as messengers on early literacy, says Kathy Vining DeLone, Reach Out and Read’s executive director. Doctors provide guidance to parents and send them home with a book, which is provided via book drives and donations.

Sissel-Phelan says she’s “thrilled” with the recent AAP guidelines. While AAP has always endorsed Reach Out and Read (the national organization is more than 25 years old), she says the recent announcement goes a step forward to say that early literacy is just as important as other “interventions and preventatives,” like immunizations, nutrition and breastfeeding.

Early exposure to books and literacy has been shown to improve child development and future health and well-being. Sissel-Phelan says the goal is to have every pediatrician and primary care provider in the state involved with Reach Out and Read, and they expect AAP’s guidelines to take them one step closer.

Save the Date

Rx for Success, the annual fundraiser for Reach Out and Read Arkansas, is Sept. 11 at Next Level Events in Little Rock from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Tickets are $35. Visit for more details or to purchase tickets.

Poets With Passion Poetry Slam

December 7: The 13th annual Poets with Passion Poetry Slam, sponsored by J.A. Fair High School, hits the stage from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Five students from each Little Rock School District high school will be performing for two rounds. The last round will be the top two students from each school. There will be an overall school winner and three monetary prizes ranging from $100-$350, as well as trophies, will be awarded. The monetary awards are funded entirely through donations from the community.

Donations can be made by calling Christina Cereghini at 501-447-1735 or via e-mail

Our Club: Inspiring Creativity and Literacy

An afterschool creative arts and literary program is currently enrolling students who live three Little Rock ZIP codes.

Our Club, which is part of Pulaski County Youth Services, is an art-infused program for 12- to 17-year-olds, offering lessons in creative writing, spoken-word poetry, painting, theater and improv, said Program Director Chris James.

“The program helps kids get in touch with their creative selves and makes them more intellectual,” James said. “Art makes people look at the world differently.”

Our Club is open to kids living in 72204, 72205 and 72211 ZIP codes, James said. He and his team have been visiting schools to recruit students for the program, which he is hoping to grow. Our Club also held a summer program, with about 60 children enrolled.

The Our Club program is free, and will start after school and run until about 7 p.m. It will focus on three main components: educational enrichment, cultural enrichment and health and fitness. To teach these lessons, James said he works in collaboration with other organizations and sometimes takes the students on field trips.

James, a photographer, artist and member of Foreign Tongues, a spoken-word poetry group, said he loves getting young people excited about the arts that he loves so much. He said often the kids expect that learning about poetry will be boring, but when they see that performance and storytelling is involved, they quickly become inspired.

“I love to see them excited about what I love,” James said. “It’s exciting to see young people get excited about something they initially perceive as boring. The goal is reach one, teach one and inspire two. And, the cycle continues.”

Pulaski County Youth Services is a coalition of county, state and local governments, service organizations, businesses, churches, civic groups and associations developed. Our Club is just one of the many programs provided to youth to help them excel in all areas of life. Other Pulaski County Youth Services programs include ACT preparation, cooking, literacy, mentoring and more. For more information, call (501) 340-8250 or visit

6 Things To Do This Weekend: March 8-10

  1. Buy the Book. The Central Arkansas Library System’s Used Book Sale is this weekend, March 8-10 at the Main Library. Stock up on some good reads for Spring Break. Paperbacks are 50 cents and hardbacks are $1. Call (501) 918-3000 for details or click here.
  2. Catch a Trout. On Saturday, March 9, the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center hosts its monthly Lil’ Wild Ones program. This month is Chasing Rainbows: Catch a Trout. The event is recommended for kids age 4 to 8 and features nature stories and hands-on activities. And, it’s free! For details, call (501) 907-0636 or click here.
  3. Clean Up. Join neighborhood associations, volunteer groups and Keep Little Rock Beautiful in organizing a citywide cleanup effort on Saturday, March 9, from 8 a.m. to noon in your local neighborhood. For details, call (501) 765-3503 or email Click here for a list of locations.
  4. Discover Archaeological Treasures. March is Archaeology Month. On Saturday March 9, spend the day discovering archeological treasures, including Native American pictographs, at Petite Jean Mountain. Admission is free. Contact the park at (501) 727-5441 or click here for details.
  5. Eat Pancakes. On March 9-10, enjoy a pancake breakfast with maple syrup and pork sausage at Overlook Farm at Heifer International, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event includes a tour of the farm and a lesson on maple sugaring. Cost: $12, adults; $6, ages 3-10; free, age 2 and under. Reservations are required. Call (508) 886-2221.
  6. Get the Royal Treatment. The Princess and The Pea opens at the Arkansas Arts Center’s Children’s Theatre on Friday, March 8, and runs through March 24. Tickets are $12. Shows are Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., and Spring Break matinees are at 2 p.m. March 19-22. And, look for Savvy Kids’ review of the show in the next couple of days!

Celebrating the Season with Fall Reading

Fall is here, which means cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets. One great way to make use of the shorter daylight hours is to spend a little more time reading together as a family.

We’ve put together a short list of some great fall reading that will educate, inform, and inspire the entire family. You can head over to the public library to check them out or buy your own copy at a local bookstore or online!

What’s your favorite fall book?

Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians – Written and illustrated by Aliki, this book tells the story of all things corn—popcorn, corn on the cob, cornbread, tacos, tamales, and tortillas—and how Native American farmers originally found and nourished this wild plant and shared it with the European settlers.

The Pumpkin Patch – Do your children love picking out pumpkins? This is an excellent resource for helping children understand life and growth cycles of this beloved autumn plant. Written by Elizabeth King, the book contains wonderful photographs of the pumpkin in all stages of development.

Giving Thanks – In this book a father takes his son on a fall hike, reminding him to be thankful for all creation. Written by Jonathan London and Gregory Manchess, this book is an excellent read for parents as well.