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

Math can be overwhelming and scary for some kids. But Dr. Susan Ashbee uses books to allay the fear of math and make it fun for her young patients.

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

dr. Susan Ashbee uses books to make math and reading less scary and more fun for patients. (contribution made)

“It’s a wonderful program and it helps build a bond between parents and their children,” Ashbee says. “I can show parents how to use the books to teach their children to count. The books are like a sucker. All children want a book when they come to visit.”

Ashbee said the ROR program gives her an opportunity to encourage parents to read to their children. Research has shown that the high school graduation rate is higher for children whose parents read to them for at least 10 minutes a day from about 6 months of age, she added.

By observing how toddlers and children respond to “picture books,” Ashbee can quickly identify developmental milestones.

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

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

“This grant just shows the Alabama Power Foundation’s commitment to the children of Alabama,” said Amy Crosby, Reach Out and Read-Alabama Coordinator. “We want to make sure all of our kids are school-ready and successful, and we’re thrilled that the Alabama Power Foundation is ideally supporting that.”

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

What the Reach Out and Read-Alabama Initiative has done for reading, officials hope the Early Math Initiative will do for math. (contribution made)

Katie Erdlitz shares an Early Math Initiative book with a patient from Fairhope Pediatrics. (contribution made)

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

“These books are a way to get families talking about math concepts without them having to sit down and make timetables,” Crosby said. “It teaches children how to count and helps reduce the anxiety surrounding math. By the time they enter pre-K, they are already familiar with mathematical concepts.”

Crosby said doctors can practice “math” with their young patients. They can use illustrations in books to teach children basic concepts such as counting, measuring and comparing. The children can take the books home, where parents can continue to reinforce those concepts.

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

“Often a child is scared and thinks going to the doctor means getting an injection,” she said. “But instead it becomes an opportunity for them to get a book. It helps the child to have a positive experience when visiting the pediatrician. And it’s okay to get a book in the hands of children.”

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