What is the first thing that an infant does? He/she starts learning. Learning about Mom and Dad (bonding), learning the sensation of being touched, about feeling hot and cold, wet and dry. And how to get attention and change uncomfortable situations (crying.)
Brain development between conception and age three is an active frontier in child development academia. Vast numbers of studies on how infants learn are underway worldwide, and the results are consistent: starting at conception, a child’s brain development is on overdrive.
When the child is born, his/her brain has nearly all the neurons it will ever have. The brain doubles in size in the next year, and by age 3, it has developed to 80% of its eventual adult size. What children learn in the first three years can change their entire lives. Early stimulation and education are crucial for a child’s development, and that starts at birth – not at preschool or kindergarten.
Next Wednesday is World Read Aloud Day, followed in March by Read Aloud Month. Frankly, these designations are largely unnoticed in the general population. But I suggest to you that they should be as celebrated as any major holiday because they promote an activity that can change the world. Literacy is key for academic achievement and is linked with higher high school graduation rates and enhanced productivity in adult life.
Working for reading proficiency by age 3 has long been an important pillar of United Way of Delaware’s mission. Through the combined efforts of our Help Me Grow program for parents of infants and babies, our Reading Angels initiative, our work with Get Delaware Reading and My Very Own Library, our involvement with Learning Pods and out- of-school programs, our collaboration with a wide range of community centers and organizations, and our support of Delaware Afterschool Network, we put our commitment into action.
Bringing attention to the importance of infant and early childhood development can be a tough sell in a society that has many more visible issues. But the body of knowledge uncovered by education professionals is irrefutable: brain development and learning in the earliest months is every bit as important – and possibly more so – than that which takes place beginning in first grade.
Raising children who are proficient at reading and who love books is important to the community’s overall success. Studies show that children who receive high-quality
early childhood education have 46% lower rates of incarceration, 33% lower rates of arrest for violent crimes, and are 26% less likely to need government assistance as adults.
There is a saying that parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and that is clearly a fact. We suggest that parents, grandparents and friends begin to read aloud the day the baby comes home from the hospital. The infant will make a connection between your voice and the feeling of being close to you with books. They will associate books with happiness, and lifelong avid readers can be created.
It’s never too early — or too late — to start! If you or anyone you know has a child, why not start reading aloud beginning next Wednesday, World Read Aloud Day.
Michelle A. Taylor, Ed.D.
President and CEO, United Way of Delaware
Read Feel Good Friday for January 27, 2023