* Mission: To reach out to low-income pediatric patients and urge them to read.

A pediatric patient can get a checkup, immunizations and a book all in one visit to the Mattel/UCLA Children's Health Center, courtesy of the Reach Out and Read project run by the UCLA Medical Center's pediatric department.

Since November, UCLA pediatricians have been using checkups to talk to parents about the value of reading to their children. The program also has volunteers who read to patients while they wait for appointments.

The program targets low-income children, ages 6 months to 5 years, who are at the hospital for checkups. For some, the program is an introduction to reading.

"There have been some kids who never, ever had a book," said Karen Fond, program coordinator. She said they try to choose books that have educational value and are culturally sensitive.

The pediatrician gives every child a book during each visit and teaches the parent how to read to the child using engaging techniques.

"The important message is that each well-child visit isn't just about a physical exam and immunizations," said Dr. Stuart Slavin, medical director of the program. "If you really care about the child, things like reading are incredibly important to discuss with families."

The program is aimed at preschoolers, because it is important to foster early childhood literacy, Fond said.

"What better thing for a pediatrician to do than help kids become smarter kids who are interested in reading?" she said. "This is the perfect time for it."

Reach Out and Read is a national literacy program that began in Boston.

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