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Talking is Teaching Pilot Launches in East Bay

The campaign aims to improve community health and boost babies’ brain development by encouraging parents to talk, read, and sing to their children. Pictured above: Dr. Patricia Castenada-Davis speaks with Kaiser Permanente member Kiraa Easter.

Kiraa Easter and her two-month-old daughter, Neiko, got something extra at the end of their recent well-baby visit at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center.

Pediatrician Patricia Castaneda-Davis, MD, spent a few minutes talking with Easter about the Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing campaign, and gave her a tote bag filled with books, a sing-a-long CD, and a colorful onesie and receiving blanket – all designed to help her and her husband boost Neiko’s early learning and development.

“The number of words that a child knows when she enters elementary school is directly related to how many words she has heard, so the quantity and quality of words you use is really important, and you can talk or sing about absolutely everything,” Dr. Castaneda-Davis explained.

She suggested Easter sing about her baby’s clothes when she is dressing her, or sing about her food once she starts eating solids.

As a school counselor, Easter is familiar with the benefits of talking and reading to children, but she hadn’t heard much about singing.

“Even though I can’t hold a tune, she presented it in a way that I’m interested in trying at home. I think it could be fun,” she said.

Drake Wolfe and his dad check out some of the goodies in the Talking is Teaching tote bag.
Drake Wolfe and his dad check out some of the goodies in the Talking is Teaching tote bag.

Tools to Enhance Brain Development

As part of a one-year pilot program, Kaiser Permanente pediatricians and family medicine doctors in Oakland, Richmond, Alameda, and Pinole will distribute the Talking is Teaching materials and speak with parents at 2-month and 18-month well-baby visits. The effort is in partnership with Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation.

Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit provided funding to share Talking is Teaching materials with low-income and uninsured families who receive health care at community clinics in the East Bay. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland is taking part in the campaign as well.

Sherry Novick, managing director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit programs, said the campaign helps parents promote the healthy development of their children.

“Decades of research tells us that children’s brains develop most rapidly in the first three to five years,” Novick said. “Talking is Teaching equips families with knowledge and tools to support them as their children’s first teacher.”

Novick added that studies also show the more words children have when they start school, the more ready they are to learn and the more likely they are to be successful in school.

‘I Felt Empowered’

At Kaiser Permanente Oakland, the Talking is Teaching pilot launched on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Staff wore colorful Dr. Seuss gear, and volunteers dressed as the “The Cat in the Hat” to read to children in Pediatrics.

Dr. Castaneda-Davis said the pilot complements KP’s long-time early literacy efforts through the Reach Out and Read  program, and it could have a significant impact.

“When the message comes from a doctor, people respond because they see us as experts,” she said, adding that she thought the tote bag full of goodies would help, too. “It’s one thing to hear something, and it’s another when you’re given materials to reinforce it.”

Member Kiraa Easter said she felt that Kaiser Permanente cared.

“They had something for my children, and something that will be helpful for me as a parent,” she said. “I felt grateful, and I felt empowered.”

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