The recent groundbreaking for the Gateway United Way Family Center and the opening of the new Bauder Education Center in Long Reach have drawn the public’s attention to the shortage of affordable, high-quality childcare for young children in our community. Research has shown how important the early years are for physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. I asked Bonnie Bricker, founder of Talk With Me • Howard County to write a guest post explaining another crucial way to support brain development in young children from the moment they are born. - - jam
Every child deserves the opportunity to have a good life. While we know many factors will impact that outcome, solid brain development in the early years is critical.
Imagine this dream: Children growing up here go through their daily routine seeing and experiencing interactions everywhere. Mom and Dad put their phones down at mealtimes to chat. As each daily walk unfolds, common sights are described and compared. Children learn to notice and add details to conversations. They see parents comparing the fruit in the market, the cashier exchanging warm greetings; folks are unplugged and interacting. It’s an interactive style that may seem dated, but it’s actually essential to the development of the child and later, when that child becomes a parent.
80% of critical brain development happens in the first 3 years of life, and 90% by age 5. Decades ago, we learned that some 3-year-olds had heard as many as 30 million more words in their language-rich households than children in homes that were quieter and less interactive. Those children were far more prepared for kindergarten. In 2018, we learned that toddler chats were directly related to test scores of IQ and language TEN YEARS later. Building those critical brain structures early in life matters over the long span of our children’s lives. It matters for the child and their family; it matters for their ability to hold a joband have sustaining relationships. Our communities are successful when everyone can grow and thrive; it is in the best interests of all of us to spread this critical human story of development:
Our brains grow with our positive interactions, craving the social-emotional hook of human connections in order to learn.
Recognizing that our brains are wired for connection and emotion is essential to understanding the foundations of development being built in the early years. Your warm gaze, your gentle words, your simple adjustments to your baby’s needs in that beautiful loop of responsiveness is key to learning. Humans are not computers; emotion and connectedness are keys to brain-building.
Brain-building moments occur through our days. Whether we’re singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as we diaper our babies or reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the twentieth time to our preschooler, routines provide great opportunities over the span of our children’s developing years. Narrating what we do as we go through our routines helps our children hear new words and to understand how words fit into complex sentences. Whether we chat about the spices we use as we cook or narrate the sights and sounds of our daily walk, these moments are critical to hearing language and learning about our world. Over time, we add layers of knowledge to existing knowledge which helps our children to grow their intellectual capacity.
Repetition matters; multiplication is key. If you add reading a simple book for 5 minutes each day to your routine, you are adding 35 minutes of brain-building a week. In a year, you’ll be adding 12,775 minutes of this essential interaction. By age 5, you’d have spent 63,875 minutes of valuable interaction in that one activity. Adding interactions through mealtimes, playtimes, and daily routines makes a huge difference for every child.
And yet --- while some know this information quite well, many parents, caregivers, and professionals still need this message. So,here’s the good news story: for the last 4 years, current and former HCPSS educators and Speech-Language Pathologists, county government employees, and various community members have joined me to volunteer for Talk With Me • Howard County to help all parents, caregivers, and professionals working with young families to understand that early interactions build brains. We built the content, training program, workshop models, and a network of community members who share this information. Our partnership with HCPSS and the vision of Superintendent, Dr. Mike Martirano has been a huge help; along with the amazing collaboration of the Early Childhood Advisory Council, more than a thousand community members have interacted with the message of Talk With Me in some way, and many are in positions to spread the message further.
Now established, we are transitioning the program to HCPSS. I have spent my entire retirement since 2015 to help spread this important information, and so my next chapter will begin. You can help to spread the message too!
Visit the Talk With Me webpage: https://www.hcpss.org/launch-into-learning/talk-with-me/
For more information, Howard County parents can explore the Howard Basics website and sign up for Basic Insights, offered free to families here: https://www.howardcountymd.gov/the-basics
Explore infant and child research more with great videos for both professionals and laypersons at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. Start with this link on Brain Architecture: https://devhcdc.wpengine.com/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/
Bonnie Bricker founded Talk With Me • Howard County in 2015. She is a retired HCPSS teacher, and the author of "Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children" as well as numerous articles on social and public policy.