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WETA Production, "Toddling Toward Reading," Focuses on Preschool Literacy

Reba McEntire Hosts New Show on Getting Children Ready to Read

Washington, DC – When pediatrician Robert Needlman enters an exam room, he often has a children’s book tucked under his arm. As co-founder of the national program Reach Out and Read, Dr. Needlman has helped transform the definition of well-baby care in America by folding literacy development into the practices of doctors across the country. Along with weight checks, hearing tests and eye exams, participating physicians like Dr. Nicole Lang in Washington, D.C., regularly provide literacy training as part of well-baby visits.


“There’s a whole foundation that gets built over the first years of life,” says Needlman. By tying literacy to health, parents are learning that reading is a critical component in their child’s development.


“Toddling Toward Reading,” a new WETA production, explores how to make the most of the years before a child enters school. Hosted by singer Reba McEntire, the program visits with teachers, parents and doctors across the country who are helping preschoolers get ready to read. “Toddling Toward Reading” premieres on TV 26 on Sunday, September 21 at 6:30 p.m. (rebroadcasts on Saturday, September 27 at 7:30 a.m. and Sunday, September 28 at 4:30 p.m.).


“Research shows that what children know before they enter school is a highly accurate predictor of future success,” says Executive Director Noel Gunther. “Our new show illustrates the value of early language development, reading at home, and a strong preschool program to get children off to the best possible start.”


“Toddling Toward Reading” also visits various programs around the country that are finding innovative ways to get youngsters ready for school, including:

  • Coralwood School in Decatur, Georgia, which runs an inclusion model that mixes special needs students with typically developing students and provides many of its therapies in the classroom. The segment profiles the progress of five-year-old Avery, who has Down syndrome.
  • Parker Child-Parent Center in Chicago, Illinois, which offers a two-pronged approach — a high-quality preschool for children and research-based literacy training for parents. While the kids attend preschool classes down the hall, energetic teacher Carol Robinson trains parents so that they can help their children become better readers.
  • Zavala Elementary preschool program in Corpus Christi, Texas, which features master teacher Dr. Rebecca Palacios who runs a dual-language immersion preschool. Palacios also mentors teachers-in-training on how to provide top-notch teaching in a preschool environment.


“Toddling Toward Reading” includes an interview with Sandra Boynton, author and illustrator of many preschool books, who talks about what inspired her to write children’s stories.


“Babies start learning from the first day of life,” says Christian Lindstrom, executive producer. “We hope this show helps parents and teachers understand that helping preschoolers develop language skills — by reading, singing, or just talking with them — can give children a good start to a great reading future.”


“Toddling Toward Reading” is the 10th program in the series “Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers,” WETA's award-winning series of innovative half-hour programs about how children learn to read, why so many struggle, and what parents and teachers can do to help.


The series is part of the ongoing WETA initiative, which uses television, the Internet, print and outreach to disseminate research-based information about teaching young children how to read and helping those who struggle. is funded primarily by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. sister sites include, the world’s leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD;, the first major, comprehensive bilingual website for Spanish-speaking families and teachers of English-language learners; and, a new literacy website for educators teaching adolescent children from fourth through 12th grades.


WETA is the third-largest program producer for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation's capital. WETA productions and co-productions include “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “America at a Crossroads,” “In Performance at the White House,” “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The War.” Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA. For more information on WETA and its programs, visit


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