Learning begins the moment a child is born. Every child is filled with incredible potential to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for life. Sadly, data shows that by the age of two, children from high-poverty, high-stress backgrounds are far behind their peers in basic cognitive skills.
More than 80 percent of brain development happens during the first three years of life. It’s crucial that parents and caregivers learn how to seize the opportunities present in a child’s earliest years.
Because early experiences matter so much and children who are talked to and read to from birth can have as many as 30 million more words in their “word bank” by the time they begin school, First Steps partnerships in the Upstate are providing a foundation of simple, positive messaging that everyone – from healthcare providers and faith communities, to childcare workers and parents – can grasp and promote to the children and families they serve.
As we have dialogued with Greenville County and Pickens County school districts, SHARE Head Start, United Way of Greenville and Pickens Counties, childcare centers, healthcare providers, social service agencies and community members, we all agree on this: While early interventions are the most reliable predictor of school readiness and high school graduation, our community has incorrectly made “readiness” messaging focus too much on the outcome. We need to focus more on what parents can do every day to help their children enter school on track and ready to succeed.
That’s why we’re so excited about Palmetto Basics. The Palmetto Basics are five fun, simple, and powerful ways that every family can give every child a great start in life. The Basics are also tools that existing organizations and caregivers can use as part of their everyday operations.
Here are the five basics:
1. Maximize love and manage stress: Young children thrive when their world seems loving, safe, and predictable. Because young children, even infants, are affected by others’ emotions, it’s important to find strategies that help parents and caregivers cope with stress.
2. Talk, Sing and Point: Babies are learning language from the moment they are born. Every time parents and caregivers talk, sing, or point to what they are talking about, they’re providing clues to the meaning of words. This is important information to young brains about how language works and the thoughts and feelings that language communicates.
3. Count, Group and Compare: Infants are pre-wired to learn simple math ideas, including small numbers, patterns, and making comparisons. Parents don’t need to be math teachers to start preparing their child to be a problem solver. There are fun and simple activities that any parent can do from the beginning to build math and thinking skills.
4. Explore through movement and play: As babies grow, they gain more control over their bodies, learning the rules of movement along the way. As they explore their surroundings, their brains form mental maps of places and space, preparing them for sports and even for being good at math.
5. Read and discuss stories. The more parents and caregivers read with young children, the more prepared they become to enjoy reading and to do well in school. Even when parents read to babies, young children are learning how books work and developing new language skills. Reading is also a special way for parents and children to bond.
If these basics seem simple, it’s because they are. Young children don’t need expensive enrichment activities or preschool athletic teams to get a great start in life.
Throughout the summer, stay tuned for a community-wide effort aimed at equipping parents and caregivers with the tools to make the most of these early years. We want to help every child enter school on track and ready to succeed.
If you would like to learn more about The Palmetto Basics, visit our website at www.palmettobasics.org.
Pickens County First Steps Executive Director
Greenville County First Steps Executive Director