Happy, healthy adults often start out as “smart babies.” While many new parents are anxious to raise a “smart baby,” recent findings have revealed concerning trends.
Specifically, one in three children start Kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read.(1) In addition, two out of three children in the U.S. fail to develop reading proficiency by the end of third grade.(2) As it turns out, there actually are steps to take to reduce or eliminate these problems.
There are three critical steps that, when done together, can start your child on the road for a lifetime of cognitive, social and emotional health. They are:
1. Start early
2. Be there
3. Interact using the five R’s
I commonly hear parents of toddlers refer to their child as a sponge. Children seem to just absorb knowledge. Parents marvel at the behaviors they see their child pick up and are, for instance, surprised and amused to hear their child repeat a phrase they heard from a parent. The truth of the matter is that research has revealed that 80 percent of a child’s brain develops by their third birthday.(3) This means that children are learning much earlier than the toddler years. They are learning from the moment they are born.
There is a great deal of momentum building to deepen our knowledge of early childhood development and reverse the current trends of illiteracy. Top leaders, such as Hilary Clinton, are taking action. In a keynote speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics in October, she reintroduced the “Too Small to Fail” program. This program was launched recently by the Clinton Foundation in partnership with Next Generation, a non-partisan group promoting scientific research about early childhood development.
While there is still much to be learned, we do know that parents and caregivers hold the power to reverse the current trends if they commit to their child’s literacy from early infancy.
We live in a digital age. American adults are consumed with electronic gadgets. Earlier this year, Nielsen released a report stating that the average American adult spends 11 hours per day with electronic media.(4) In addition to watching TV and listening to the radio (the top two digital activities), we spend a lot time on smart phones and computers.
When our attention is placed on these devices, it is not placed interacting directly with our children. Adding to the distractions, we’ve spread ourselves incredibly thin taking on more and more responsibilities professionally, personally and socially. We have exhausted ourselves to the point that we sometimes even have difficulty coming up with ideas on how to interact productively with our children. Instead, we often put electronic devices in front of them or purchase products hyped to build our babies’ brains, even though there is no scientific evidence that supports these products’ claims.(5)
The good news is, what our babies need is not difficult or expensive. Reduce the distractions, put down those devices and be there! Meeting your infant’s needs is quite simple and can be easily worked into your daily activities.
Interact using the five Rs
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Research shows that reading, talking and singing regularly with young children from birth stimulates brain development. This stimulation in turn builds language, literacy and children’s motivation to learn.”
Parents may not realize that they inherently already know how to interact with their infants to deliver the stimulation they need. Most parents are already instinctively wired to perform the needed actions to bond with their new baby and begin the teaching process.
To help focus parents and caregivers, the AAP has provided a simple guide-map with the Five R’s.
1. Read together as a daily, fun, family activity.
2. Rhyme, play, talk, sing, hold and cuddle together often throughout the day.
3. Build Routine around meal, play and sleep to help a child learn what to expect and what is expected of them.
4. Reward for everyday successes (especially for effort toward goals like helping); praise from those closest to a child is a potent reward.
5. Develop Relationships that are nurturing, reciprocal, purposeful and lasting, which are the foundations for healthy early brain and child development.
In summary, infants have a tremendous capacity to learn. Early learning is directly related to daily verbal contact with a loving parent or caregiver. The benefit of early learning is a smarter baby, a better prepared kindergartner and, ultimately, an adult who is happier and healthier cognitively, socially and emotionally.
Jumpstart this process for your infant by committing to their literacy from the first moment you hold them in your arms.
1 Miami Herald, “Closing the vocabulary gap one word at a time,” by Cindy McCain and Roberto Llamas – May 4, 2014
2 National Survey of Children’s Health 2011-2012 and AAP Policy Statement, “Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice”
3 Miami Herald, “Closing the vocabulary gap one word at a time,” by Cindy McCain and Roberto Llamas – May 4, 2014
4 Nielsen’s cross-platform report
5 AAP Books Build Connections Toolkit