Heads Up! Children Read, Listen, and Learn

The Heads Up! Program at the Komansky Center for Children's Health makes early literacy part of primary pediatric care. The program has two parts.

  1. Pediatricians and trained volunteers teach parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children,
  2. Children who come for general pediatric care at Heads Up! program sites receive brand-new books at their medical visits. By the time children reach kindergarten, they will have a home library of 20-30 books.

Our pediatricians help parents to understand that reading aloud is one of the most important activities they can do with their young children. By doing so, we follow a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics: that pediatricians prescribe reading to infants and toddlers as part of primary pediatric care.

Adopt-A-Book Event (Ongoing!)

The Heads Up! Pediatric Literacy program would like to announce the start of their Adopt-A-Book fundraising event. This event gives donors the unique opportunity to select a book, often a childhood favorite, to sponsor for a specific period of time. These sponsored books are then given to children who grow up in homes without books, and who are at greatly risk of illiteracy and language delays. To select a book to sponsor, please download our 2014 Adopt-A-Book List and Donation Form. Here you'll find titles of carefully selected, age-appropriate books, along with the costs of sponsoring books over certain periods of time. Of course, any and all donation amounts will help our cause and will be greatly appreciated!

Collaborating with Parents

Heads Up! has a very simple premise: We place books in children's hands and encourage their parents to read to them each day. We know that limited literacy occurs far too often among children who live in poverty. We also know that parents are their children's first and best teachers. Using this knowledge, we designed a program to educate the parents of the thousands of children who use our pediatric clinics each year. The information and materials we provide help parents promote optimal language development and reading skills in their children.

Through Heads Up! we give parents three tools that allow them to give their children opportunities they themselves may have missed:

  • brand-new books a primary tool for learning;
  • education about the importance of reading with young children;
  • and practical information about how to use books effectively.

Each child receives a new and age-appropriate book at every well-child check-up, starting within days of birth. In addition, we give guidance to parents in a friendly and enthusiastic way on a one-to-one basis. Our staff members and trained volunteers also model book reading and educational language to assure parents' understanding.

The Heads Up! program gives away close to 40,000 new books to the children of New York City. Books are available in Spanish and English, as well as in several other languages used by the citizens of New York. The children we serve live in economically disadvantaged homes, and for many, the books they receive from Heads Up! are the only ones they own.

Why is Reading Aloud Important?

Current research studies show that positive early exposure to books and reading helps children learn to read. In August 2010, a meta-analysis found that giving children access to print materials was positively associated with improved language development, reading performance, and academic outcomes. It also caused children to read more and for longer lengths of time. As early as 1985, the National Commission on Reading identified reading aloud as the single most important activity a parent can engage in with a child. Reading aloud encourages cognitive and language development, two areas in which developmental delays are most frequently diagnosed.

By giving books to children, they and their families are given access to a primary tool for learning. Children then begin to view reading as a pleasurable experience. Numerous studies have shown that the positive experience which comes from having been read to by parents can lead to greater success in school.

Supporting Literacy

Heads Up! is one of the pioneer programs that combines pediatric care with the developmental and educational needs of its community, and an affiliate of Reach Out and Read (ROR), another pioneer program in child literacy. Heads Up! seeks to change the practice of pediatrics by making literacy development a part of every child's pediatric care. As part of that effort, we began expanding to clinical sites beyond NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in the 1990s. We now work at 11 sites in four of New York City's five boroughs: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan; New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn; Long Island City Community Practice in Queens; New York Hospital Queens; Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx; and St. Barnabas Hospital's six pediatric ambulatory clinics in the Bronx. All of our sites primarily serve patients with Medicaid.

Supporting Heads Up!

Previously, we received 78% of our funding from Reading is Fundamental (RIF), which matched every dollar donated to us by more than 3:1. However, due to federal budget cuts, RIF can no longer provide the same degree of financial support. We have therefore lost the vast majority of our funding indefinitely. More than ever before, our program now depends upon the gracious support of people who are passionate about supporting children in need.

In the past, we have received generous donations from outside sources including Common Cents, the Rohatyn Foundation, Barclays Bank of New York, The New York Times Foundation, The Ahmanson Foundation, The Ilma F. Kern Foundation, the Auxiliary of the Society of New York Hospital, the Donley Foundation, Credit Suisse First Boston Foundation Trust, Target, MetroPlus, The Sulzberger Foundation, and The Kornfeld Foundation. We are grateful for our supporters, and we continue to look for other supporters who are willing to help us in our precarious financial situation.

Adopt-A-Book Program

In addition to general donations, we receive contributions through our Adopt-A-Book program, whereby individual donors sponsor the distribution of an age-appropriate book in our clinic for a specific period of time. Donations are used to buy books we could not otherwise afford.

Make a Donation

If you would like to make a donation, please download our Donation/Adopt a Book Packet or contact us if you would like more information about helping out with our program, please contact us:

Program Coordinator
(646) 962-4968

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Mary J. Ward, PhD
Evelyn Lipper, MD
Program Founder

Heads Up! Program Coordinator
525 E. 68th St. Box 578
New York, NY 10065
Tel: 646-962-4968
Fax: 646-962-0259