Providing tools to build babies’ brains

As a parent I know firsthand the difficulties and challenges of raising a child who meets and exceeds developmental milestones.

I was fortunate to understand the truism that parents are a child’s first teacher and the home is the first school.

Sadly, some parents never grasp that reality and too often they find their children floundering in school and failing in life’s achievement and success.

During these times, support and assistance from others are critical. That’s why the Studer Community Institute is offering parents support to help develop the tools and skills to improve their children’s lives and get them ready for school and life.

An important step in reaching parents of children ages 0 to 3 was made last month at Moreno Court. The inaugural Parent Outreach Program kicked off with nine parents and a grandparent.

Each Wednesday, an average of six to eight mothers have met in one-hour sessions to get tips, training and strategies on the importance of talking to babies to help build better brains.

Using strategies from the Thirty Million Word Initiative’s 3T’s, Lena START curriculum and a variety of lesson plans on early learning, role-playing and interactive discussion, we hope to provide parents with important tools and tips to help build better brains in babies and improve kindergarten in Escambia County.

Future sites are planned at the Fricker Resource Center for parents in Attucks Court, as well as Gonzalez and Morris courts, complexes under the Pensacola Area Housing Commission.

Pam Evans, a grandmother of a 2-year-old in Moreno Court, shared with the class how she had begun using the talking tips with her grandchild and the positive results of the interaction.

“Since I started attending these meetings, I’ve been talking so much more with my grandson,” she said. “It must be working, because he is so active now and we can’t stop him from talking. I like the lessons on the 3T’s. I want to see my grandson doing good in school.”

During the orientation session at Attucks Court last week, a young mother admitted that she didn’t know how to effectively talk to her baby.

Wynter Davis, SCI assistant program coordinator, saw an opportunity to provide information and encouragement.

Davis took the initiative to personally deliver the mother an Impact 100 Brain Bags and went over the tips and strategies with the mother to ensure she knew the importance of the literacy kit.

Throughout Escambia County are agencies and organizations that offer services to assist young mothers and their children in their growth and development.

I’m excited that SCI now is among them.

Among the Institute’s goals is to improve the quality of life by having children ready and prepared for school. Research consistently shows that investing in children at an early age pays off over time in a child’s life.

Unfortunately nearly a third of children — about 1,000 a year — start kindergarten unprepared both academically and socially, based on the most recent data provided by the Florida Office of Early Learning.

Studies show that children from underserved communities know fewer words and have been read to less often than those in middle-income neighborhoods.

Some parents never finished school, others have several jobs and no time to talk to their children or read to them at least 15 minutes every day. This affects the brain development necessary to prepare for success later in life, without which even early education is too late.

In next few months my focus will primarily be on finding ways to help parents use the power they have — through their words — to build a child’s brain.

Words are food to a baby’s brain. The more words a child hears in the first three years of life, the stronger the connections in the brain will be.

It’s never too early to start talking and reading to a baby as research shows that parents can have a positive impact on their child’s language and cognitive development in the first year.

Also introduced to the parents is a plan to implement a mentoring program for mothers.

The first step, of course, is to gauge the mothers’ interest in having a mentor and what they would like that mentor to provide.

The good news is that after reading blog posts and through word of mouth, some women in the community already have expressed interested in becoming a mentor.

In addition, Connie Bookman of Pathways for Change reached out to help. Last year PFC started Stepping Stones, a program that mentors women coming from prison.

Next month Pathways for Change, in partnership with SCI, is holding a mentoring summit with other agencies that providing mentoring. The goal is to

to have a forum to establish best practices in the training and continuing care of mentors.

Currently, Stepping Stones offer mentoring to women who face challenges. They have more mentors than mentees and have offered to share some of them with SCI.

Meanwhile, several women have shown interest in becoming a mentor in SCI’s Mentor Match program.

Once the eight-week session at Moreno Court is completed, we want to match as many mothers who are interested with a mentor.

The need for parental engagement cannot be understated in ensuring a young child will be ready from day one for success in school and in life.

With partnerships and working together with agencies and organizations like the Area Housing Commission and Pathways for Change— people who have the knowledge and skills to provide responsive interactions — we can help to shape the physical structure of a child’s brain so that he or she will be fully able to learn now in school and in the years to come.

If you want help or know someone who has ideas, suggestions or just want to talk about SCI’s labor of love in early learning, email, or call (850) 529-6485.