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Alabama Power Foundation grant supports program to make math fun for children

Math can be overwhelming and scary for some children. But Dr. Susan Ashbee is using books to help take the fear out of math and make it fun for her young patients.

Through books, Ashbee, a pediatrician at Mostellar Medical Center in Bayou La Batre, is introducing counting and other concepts to toddlers and young children who visit her office for their checkups. She provides books through Reach Out and Read-Alabama. ROR is the only program of its kind that works through pediatricians to introduce reading – and more recently math – to children, particularly those from underprivileged families.

Dr. Susan Ashbee uses books to make math and reading less scary and more fun for patients. (contributed)

“It’s a wonderful program and helps promote bonding between parents and their kids,” said Ashbee. “I can show parents how they can use the books to teach counting to their children. The books are like a sucker. All the kids want a book when they come for their visits.”

Ashbee said the ROR program allows her an opportunity to encourage parents to read aloud to their children. Research has shown that high school graduation rates are greater for children whose parents read to them at least 10 minutes a day starting at about 6 months old, she added.

Observing how toddlers and children respond to “picture books” helps Ashbee quickly pinpoint developmental milestones.

“Normally you don’t start diagnosing developmental delays until 24 months or older. But with this program, you can recognize signs in children as early as four months,” she said.

The Alabama Power Foundation awarded a grant to the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to support expansion of its Early Math Initiative. Part of Reach Out and Read-Alabama, the initiative allows pediatricians to introduce math concepts during well-child visits for children from 18 months to 5 years.

“This grant just shows the commitment of the Alabama Power Foundation to the children of Alabama,” said Amy Crosby, Reach Out and Read-Alabama coordinator. “We want to make sure all of our children are ready for school and are successful, and we love that the Alabama Power Foundation is supportive of that ideal.”

“Access to quality educational resources is critical to building healthy, vibrant communities,” said Tequila Smith, Alabama Power Foundation president. “We hope that by providing children and families with resources to develop math and reading skills at an early age, we are helping lay a foundation for lifelong learning and future success.”

The Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is using the grant to purchase about 1,500 books, along with bookmarks and posters. It will also help fund online training for medical providers using the math initiative as part of their practices. The chapter plans to use the funds to increase the number of medical practices participating.

“These books are a way to get families talking about math concepts without them having to sit down and do time tables,” Crosby said. “It teaches children to count and helps diminish the fear that surrounds math. By the time they enter pre-K, they are already familiar with math concepts.”

Crosby said physicians can practice “math talk” with their young patients. They can use illustrations in books to teach children basic concepts like counting, measuring and comparing. The kids can take the books home, where parents can continue reinforcing those concepts.

Medical providers at 52 pediatric clinical sites statewide provide free books children through Reach Out and Read-Alabama. In 2020, more than 60,000 children received books, Crosby said.

“A lot of times, a child is scared and thinks going to the doctor means getting a shot,” she said. “But instead, it becomes an opportunity for them to get a book. It helps the child have a positive experience when they visit their pediatrician. And there’s nothing bad about getting a book into the hands of children.”