Since President Clinton seemed to imply that this message is perhaps more important than any campaign, I guess it is high time we played catch-up here. These are the messages that were on hold.
A Village Turns Out to Close the Word Gap
This past year has been an important one for Too Small to Fail. We’ve built new partnerships and made many new friends along the way. The truth is that many dedicated people are working on closing the word gap around the country—from hospitals to churches, community centers to early learning facilities—but our emerging work together has helped to elevate the importance of talking, reading and singing to children from birth in order to build young brains and change the future of America. And we’re starting to see great results.
Last week, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conference in San Diego. During her speech, she announced the launch of the AAP’s updated early literacy toolkit for pediatricians and parents, which provides information and tips for doctors to speak with parents about early brain development and why talking, reading and singing regularly to children from birth helps their health and well-being. The toolkit is titled “Books Build Connections,” and was developed in partnership with Too Small to Fail. It is available online for free at www.aap.org/literacy.
We then made our way to Dreamforce 2014, an annual multi-day software and technology conference produced by Salesforce in San Francisco. At Dreamforce, hundreds of volunteers joined Secretary Clinton, Marc Benioff and our partners UPS, Bay Area Council, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, and Goodby Silverstein & Partners to stuff thousands of tote bags with books, CDs, clothes, and other materials. The tote bags are part of our “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign, and will go to families in Oakland to help them close the word gap.
Finally, we wrapped our week up in Washington DC, where we gathered with more than 100 federal agency representatives, early childhood advocates, pediatricians, city mayors and many others to announce new initiatives, discuss ways that communities are tackling the problem of the word gap, and to share new research about language development. It was an inspiring and informative day, and participants left energized to take on the word gap in new ways.
We couldn’t do what we do without our partners, but also without the parents, caregivers and caring communities that want to help our next generation of children succeed. Thank you for all that you do, and we continue to look forward to our work together.
In Seattle, parents learn how talking with their children from birth establishes a solid foundation for life. >>
Why Talking Math Matters
Counting steps to the mailbox. Pointing out how much bigger a tree is compared to a sapling. Identifying the shapes of houses, road signs or other objects around you. These are all ways that parents introduce math concepts into the learning of very young children. Early math can be fun and easy, and both parents and children benefit from the shared experience of talking about the math that surrounds us.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States has difficulty understanding middle-school math. Unfortunately, this difficulty with math translates into difficulty managing many important tasks—like following recipes and calculating change. Familiarity with early mathematical concepts paves the way for more complicated mathematical and logical thinking in adulthood, which can be helpful in jobs and in other areas of adult life.
Studies have found that the more early math concepts children are familiar with by the time they enter school, the more likely they are to do well in math and other subjects later on. Much like vocabulary and early language skills, early math skills develop from infancy through simple interactions with loved ones. Early math is much more than just counting, however. Parents and caregivers can help their children develop an appreciation of math by using opportunities throughout the day to talk about math concepts like numbers, size order and shapes.
Parents can help their children learn to love math by incorporating math talk into every day activities and by encouraging their children to talk math back. No matter your comfort with middle-school math, working early math language into your day with your children is easy to do and will help them in the long run.
Resources for Sharing:
- These tips from NAEYC help parents of infants and toddlers incorporate math talk and math activities into every day routines.
- This article in the Seattle Times points out how children’s math problems begin before kindergarten—and how caregivers can help.
- LOTS of different tips and resources from Math at Play for parents on how to incorporate math into everyday learning.
Who doesn’t love Sesame Street’s The Count for all things math? Fun video for parents and kids alike, here. >>
Fathers Are Not Just For Playtime
The role and meaning of fathers has changed over time. Fathers are taking care of children now more than ever before. In fact, the time that fathers spend weekly on child care has more than tripled since 1965. And the traditional term “father” more broadly now refers to trusted male figures (e.g. grandfathers, uncles, and mentors) who also play a vital role in the growth and development of a child. Just like mothers, fathers help very young children develop skills that benefit social, emotional and cognitive growth.
Starting from birth, fathers play a powerful role in helping their babies form close emotional bonds built on love and trust. Infants who are securely attached to their parents or caregivers are better able to self-regulate their emotions and more likely to develop positive relationships with their peers and other adults. There are simple and everyday actions that fathers can take—like reading or singing to a baby, stroking a baby’s forehead, or being responsive to a baby’s cries—to promote bonding and attachment.
A series of studies have emerged in recent years that outline the unique and positive role that fathers play in their children’s health and development. For example, children who have involved and nurturing fathers demonstrate higher language and cognitive abilities and fare better in school. They also show higher self-esteem and more sociable behavior towards their peers.
Dads tend to play with their children in different ways than moms, but both parents play important roles in their young children’s lives. And fathers—biological or not—are important contributors to their children’s development in many different ways.
Resources for Sharing:
- These tips from KidsHealth describe the various ways that fathers can bond with their children from infancy.
- This article from Huffington Post explains the science behind how fathers influence their children’s early development.
- These incredible photos show how fathers contribute to the daily lives of children.
This fun video offers various ways that the laughter that fathers enjoy with their children can actually benefit them, too! >>
Hocus-Pocus, Time to Focus!
If you watch several preschoolers for a while, you may notice a difference in the way they focus on activities like dressing themselves or stacking blocks. Some may have long enough attention spans to quickly complete the tasks at hand, while some may get frustrated or distracted and give up early. The ability of young children to manage tasks like these is related to what researchers call “executive function” of the brain—the ability to control impulses, to concentrate for long periods of time, and to master complicated tasks.
Executive function develops in infancy, and is responsible for helping our brains manage multiple streams of information at the same time. In children, executive function governs self-control and concentration. As children grow into adulthood, these skills help them with a number of activities including managing stress, memorization, following instructions, problem solving and regulating emotions. Researchers have found that children with poorly developed executive function tend to have more behavioral problems and difficulty in school, whereas children with highly developed executive function know how to focus on tasks at hand and get along well with others. According to some studies, highly developed executive function is a better predictor of academic achievement than IQ.
Many factors play a critical role in the development of executive function, and parents can help young children develop these skills in simple ways early on. For example, by establishing routines, parents and caregivers can help children feel secure and learn how to manage their emotions. Games that encourage following rules—like “Simon Says”—or that encourage memorization also improve executive function. And the more that parents talk, read and sing to their children, the more children learn how to communicate their thoughts effectively with adults and peers.
Dual language learning can also help with executive function by training the brain to juggle multiple ideas and vocabulary simultaneously. With practice and plenty of love from parents and caregivers, children can learn the skills they will need to succeed in life.
Resources for Sharing:
- This article from Parents explains how executive function works, and how parents can encourage its development.
- This article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education offers tips and fun activities for parents to use with young children to improve memory and inhibit impulses.
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University highlights experts, educators and children as they explore executive function. >>