MomTrusted on Parenting, Kids, and Early Education Archive:

Under Construction: Your Child’s Brain

Babies are born with their brains literally still under construction. While they have the majority of the building materials already on site the construction of the elegant and complex pathways of the brain are still very much in process. Babies are born with roughly 100 billion neurons already in place. Most of these neurons have not been ‘connected’ meaning they have yet to form into the useful pathways that enable vision or language. These connections are formed over the first ten years of a child’s life. More importantly, the brain develops in predictable stages based on the chemical changes occurring in the brain at that time. Because these stages are predictable scientists and developmental psychologists have been able to identify “prime times” for specific development activity and learning.

A recent publication by Judith Graham and Leslie A. Forstadt of the University of Maine detailed these prime times, what’s happening, and what a parent can do to support. Here is brief summary of their findings:

Helping your child’s vision

-        From birth to age 6 a child’s vision is developing. There is a peak in development between ages 1 and 3.

-        Babies, when born, can see clearly objects that are 8-10 inches away from their face. Over time they begin to develop greater depth perception.

-        Eye exams are the biggest help a parent can give. If problems go uncorrected the neural pathways could lose functionality.

Helping your child’s feelings

-        Emotions are a complex development process lasting through about age 10.

-        The first emotions the brain builds are calm and distress at about 2 months these emotions begin to develop into more layered feelings.

-        You can help nurture your baby’s emotional development by providing a structured and supportive environment. Simple things like expressing joy, providing routine, and positive discipline help your child develop robust and healthy emotions.

Helping your child’s language

-         Language skills begin developing at birth and grow through age 7. Vocabulary specific development starts at age two and continues into adulthood

-        The first 6 years are critical for brain development to understand, recognize, reproduce language.

-        Talking to your baby is the most important thing you can do. Continually share your language and vocabulary with your child. As a baby the singsong talk is especially helpful in helping babies learn new words.

Helping your child’s motor skills

-        A baby’s motor skill development starts with the large muscle groups and refines to smaller muscles from there.

-        The basic motor skills (arms, legs, back, etc) start at birth, with fine motor development starting around 6 months old.

-        Motor skills are refined primarily over the first 4 years of a child’s development

-        You can help your baby’s motor skill development by having age and stage appropriate activities available. For example drawing with crayons or painting helps with fine motor skills while having reaching for objects helps large motor and hand eye coordination in younger babies.

Your child is equipped from the day she or he was born with all the tools needed to develop and grow into an amazing person. Understanding how your child develops will help you provide the best environment possible to stimulate those 100 billion neurons.

The Value of Early Education

The value and importance of early education and care is too often misunderstood, overlooked, or even dismissed. Whether empirically or instinctively, those who have spent time in early education and care know how formative these years really are. We understand it is not simply finger paints, wooden shapes, and sand boxes; it is the foundation for that a child’s development – physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

A recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press again highlighted the importance of early education and care for the individual child AND for the prosperity of a City and State. I’ve observed it is much harder to make big structural changes in good times. It’s easier for people, companies, governments to maintain the status quo when things are good. It isn’t until the proverbial $#*& hits the fan that change becomes a welcome guest at the party. It’s hard to argue that there is a city that has faced greater challenges than Detroit’s recent struggles.

Much has been written about potential solutions to the City’s woes but this editorial in particular caught my attention because (disclosure – I am admittedly a big proponent of early care & education) of their direct correlation between Michigan’s financial stability and success and an investment in early education and care. And, my hope that Michigan may be the perfect storm of circumstances that enables the case for making early education and care a fundamental building block of any solution may finally reach receptive ears. Noting that a lack of quality early care and education leads to 11% of Michigan kindergartners repeating the grade and costs the state $100M annually, must open at least one pair of ears.

I get that the choice to devote funds to education and more specifically early education is a challenging one for politicians and legislators. Many of the pay offs are over the long haul and most politicians, by the time this investment pays dividends, their political career has long been over. But, 1- there are real dollars at stake and, 2- at some point (and I hope now is that point) you have to change what you put in to get something different back out. Yes, there will always be more immediate gains to be had, but the research has repeatedly shown that the return on investment in early education and care is a multiple of those immediate gains.

I truly hope there is a great test case very soon that other states will rally around. It may be Michigan, it may not, but Band Aids will not fix what is broken. We need a systemic change. As parents, however, we can’t rely on others to solve the problem. We have to be smarter parents…understand what’s important in the early years and what quality early care and education really means. Most importantly, we can’t only outsource our children’s development. There are tons of great teachers and care providers across the country, but the most influential and important person in your child’s early development is you!

Early Education Gets a Boost

Parents and early education providers are in a unique position right now. We have the opportunity to help, encourage, push our State’s to increase their investment in Early Education & Child Care. Legislation passed on September 18th (H.R. 3221, or the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009,) allocates over $1 billion per year for the next 8 years to Early Education. Every dollar moving into Early Education is a step in the right direction, so we are very excited to see this happen, although we would always like to see the investment be higher.

The Bill allocates the $1 billion per year to States in two areas, based on the following guidelines.

QUALITY PATHWAYS GRANTS, as awards to high-capacity states pursuing models of reform and excellence in early learning. Innovative plans would already reflect significant progress toward establishing the elements of a comprehensive, high quality early learning system needed to improve quality and learning outcomes for children, and a desire to take such improvements to scale

- DEVELOPMENT GRANTS, as awards to a set of states that show promise for strengthening and expanding their early learning systems, but need additional assistance to launch a standards-based, outcomes-driven system. see

This funding is on top of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Feb 09), which included $5 billion for Early Childhood. This Bill is directing funds toward Head Start, early Head Start, preschool grants, child care grants, and special infant programs.

Not all States will benefit equally from this funding, however, and likely several will not receive any help. So, as parents, child care providers, and preschool educators we can influence where this money flows. Contact your State’s Department of Education and Governor and find out what they are doing to receive these funds and what programs they intend on funding. Politics aside, Early Education has significantly trailed other areas of education investment even as research continues to demonstrate its important role in education and career achievement. Funds are coming and we need to make sure they are put to good use.

Future Of Education

There are no shortages of challenges and problems in our Early Education system. We created 249smiles to solve one particularly poignant problem, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. In the process we have been introduced to some great people/organizations working on very innovative solutions and people/groups that continue to, in my opinion, throw good money at bad solutions. But, we are innovators at heart, so we follow many of these conversations and initiatives trying to imagine solutions to the myriad problems facing our Early Education, and more broadly, our Education system.

There are plenty of people who will talk about the problems; I think the more interesting conversation revolves around those trying to create solutions. I want to introduce one of those conversations that recently sparked my interest. A couple of months ago Union Square Ventures brought together a group of “…academics, entrepreneurs, educators, and administrators” to a session the named Hacking Education

The session focused on driving dialogue between, groups that don’t communicate too frequently. I highly recommend reading the transcripts of the meeting, though a bit disjointed at times, the thinking challenges our current approach to fixing education and what education may, or should, look like in the future. Whether you agree with any of the conclusions or schools of thought (no pun intended), the conversation should be applauded. The event connected disparate groups of sharp thinkers to better understand, holistically, the challenges and requirements of a sustainable solution. This type of conversation will help avoid the “Not invented here” syndrome, we have seen with many organizations and initiatives.

The problem is complex, with many moving parts. Assuming that a solution will arise from any one silo is naïve. We need to encourage more of this interdisciplinary conversation and drive it to action. The current economic situation cannot be an excuse for not addressing the underlying problems. If it were a purely budgetary concern, this would have been solved during the boom years. But, the problem persists. I argue that when we, as a community or society, deem a problem important enough to ‘need fixin’, the money becomes fairly irrelevant. Poor or rich, with kids or without, the success or failure of our education system will affect you. Engaging now gives you, and your community, a head start. You can start small…start a conversation – simply talk to people you know about the problems you see. You can start bigger…mentor a student – share some of your wisdom. Or, you can go big…start creating solutions – we all have unique talents and this is a problem that requires an integrated solution, so put your talents to work and make your mark.

Daddy Moments

Little Moments, Big Smiles

Life is hectic. Asking someone how they are doing returns a familiar tale: too much to do and too little time. In the end, it really doesn’t matter why we feel like that. The simple point is that most of us feel like we are barely keeping our heads above the water. I know this well. I’ve made operating on 4-5 hours of sleep an art, if not a science. So with two little ones, a full time job, and a start up, there’s not a lot of time to go around. But, regardless of my work, responsibilities, or whatever, the most important thing I have to do, is be a Dad. That is why I smile every time I see this

It’s easy to forget how much each little minute matters. It might be painting, reading, playing baseball or being a hair model (you would be amazed at the amount of clips and “ponies” a 3 year old can attach to your head). The activity is irrelevant. What matters is the time, the engagement, and the love that’s shared. The first three and a half years of my daughter’s life have flown by and it scares me to imagine how much faster it will start to seem.

So Dads! Let’s be greedy! Let’s promise to steal as many of those moments as possible. Sometimes there are legitimate and important things keeping us from those moments. But understand this – There will always be reasons; the moments, however, are ever fleeting.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I am pledging to be a Greedy Dad. I promise to beg, borrow, and steal as many Daddy Moments as possible. Who’s with me?  Who else pledges to be greedy?

Pledge to be a Greedy Dad! Post a comment on this page to make your pledge.

Now post this on your blog or social profiles! Let everyone know about your commitment to being a greedy dad. Greedy Daddy Pledge

(copy the code from this text box and paste it into your blog or profile)

Kudos to Campbell-Ewald the creative agency that created this spot.

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