Words are food for a baby’s brain

Like food for the body, words are nourishment for a baby’s brain.

The first three years of a child’s life are vitally important because this is the most sensitive period for brain development.

The experiences a child has during this time will shape the architecture of her brain and build the connections that allow her to develop lifelong skills like problem-solving, communication, self-control, and relationship building, that will allow her to survive and thrive within her family, community and culture.

A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three — producing more than a million neural connections each second.

A growing body of research has confirmed what parents have always known by instinct: that magic in everyday moments – showing affection, comforting and playing with children — helps build strong healthy brains.

The relationships with the important people in a baby’s life can literally shape and develop the intricate structure of an infant’s brain.

And one of the most powerful tools is words. Talking literally builds babies’ brains.

Talking more with babies is one of the most critical elements in their brain development. Most parents don’t know how much they’re talking to their babies. And almost all parents can do more.

Through programs that assist parents in high-poverty areas in developing the tools and skills to help stimulate their babies’ brains, we believe we can help more children in Pensacola reach developmental milestones and be ready for school and beyond.

Last week, I met with a group of parents at Moreno Court. The housing complex is operated under the auspices of the Pensacola/Escambia Area Housing CommissionThe directors and managers of the eight housing campuses have opened avenues for SCI to use strategies and goals to assist parents in helping develop babies’ brains.

I garnered support and participation from each of the managers who offered training space and granted access to meet with all of the parents who want to participate in parent outreach.

We also are planning an outreach pilot program for parents in Attucks Court later this month to be held at the Fricker Center.

The Housing Commission already works with social service providers to assist its tenants in developing necessary coping and problem-solving skills for daily living. Our partnership will go a long way in helping to meet that goal.

Of the Area Housing Commission’s 1,000 residents, nearly 300 are children between birth and 3 years old. In SCI’s mission of improving the quality of life in the Pensacola Metro, helping more children get ready for kindergarten is a critical part of it.

In Escambia County every year more than 1,000 children who start kindergarten already are behind. This can lead to higher crime, more teenage pregnancies, lower wages and loss of jobs. We have to find ways to change this, and we can. In fact, we must because every child is our child.

Reaching children in their earliest years can help ensure that they get the healthy and strong start they need to begin school ready to learn and grow. Offering parent outreach programs at the Area Housing Commission complexes is a great place to start.

The program works directly with parents to engage them in day-to-day activities. The goal is to offer a safe and healthy developmentally appropriate program for parents and children from ages 0 to 3 to enhance their learning, growth and development.

We aim to provide experience and training for parents to extend the learning environment from home to school and improve the quality of life for parents and their children.

The programs are designed to build on what parents already know and do: talk with their children. During weekly sessions, parents will learn about brain development and the power of their language to enrich their child’s development.

Through workshop sessions, role-playing and videos of real parent-child interaction, parents will learn easy-to-follow strategies to enhance interaction and improve social and emotional development of the child.

We also will provide tools for parents to enhance their home language environment in order to improve their child’s brain development, and invariably his or her ability to learn.

There is little debate over the fact that all children deserve the chance to reach their fullest potential. While traditional thought has said this begins on the first day of school, science tells us something different.

It says that if we want our children to be all they can be, intellectually, productively, creatively, we must begin to recognize that the ultimate achievement begins on the first day of life and that parents must be recognized as the critical link.

The gulf between the poor children and wealthier ones widens each year, and by high school it has become an ocean. It’s been a losing battle to close this gap in schools, and a consensus has emerged to do something long before school — even before preschool, perhaps even before birth.

Just as a child needs a certain amount of healthy food for physical growth, that same child also needs a healthy dose of language for brain development.

The best and most important thing we all can do to help babies’ brain grow is as easy as ABC, 1,2,3: talk, talk and more talk.

The more connections we can help a baby’s brain build by talking will influence how ready and able to learn she will be in the months and years to come.

If you want to 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.