- Written by Kim Sharpe Kim Sharpe
Small and mighty important Babies typically enter the world making demands. Within minutes of their arrival, newborns make it known they're hungry and need nourishment. After that, they demand comfort such as a clean, dry diaper and warm swaddling. They also respond well to copious amounts of snuggling and attention. Since newborns can loudly protest if their physical needs aren't met, parents figure out quickly to respond appropriately.
Babies' mental and emotional needs, however, aren't quite as apparent, but they are as important for healthy development as the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
The first five
Early child development research asserts that the most critical time period for brain development is the first five years of a child's life. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who will be in northern Colorado this month to help parents better understand early brain development, agrees, but with a caveat.
He says, "it is indeed true there is greater malleability in the infant brain during [the first five years], and small issues can be more easily fixed during this period, there’s not really a period after which one simply gives up and says there’s no benefit to focusing on brain development." He also stresses that if there are issues, "…it’s more difficult to intervene later on."
To help parents support their children's early growth, Navsaria believes "… high-quality parent coaching is helpful. That can be done in a variety of settings—clinic visits, home visits and so on." Many opportunities exist in northern Colorado for parents to receive this type of support.
Support for parents
Bright by Three provides parents and caregivers with the tools and information they need to engage and care for babies and toddlers. Its Bright by Text and visitation program are free to any parent or caregiver who would like to receive them.
"Our mission is to provide a bright beginning for all Colorado children by helping families support the physical, emotional, and intellectual development during the critical first three years of life," says Jennifer Cajina Grigsby, Bright by Three program manager. "We have trained volunteers who visit with new parents and those with children up to age 3, and provide them with kits filled with support materials The innovative Bright by Text program distributes this same high-value early childhood content in bite-sized pieces via text message."
Text BRIGHT (or BRILLANTE) to 444999 to enroll for free. Or, go to www.brightbythree.org/program/ to request a visit. Learn more at www.brightbythree.org.
Be Ready is a collaboration focused on helping all children in Larimer County prepare to be successful in school, which includes not only early literacy skills, but nurturing physical, social and emotional health. Be Ready has a new tool available to help families prepare their children for success in kindergarten.
Ready Set Kindergarten! can be downloaded from www.bereadylarimercounty.org in English, Spanish and soon Arabic. Its content is based on developmental guidelines outlined in the Colorado Academic Standards and Teaching Strategies GOLD TM.
The guide includes: fun activities for making friends and getting along in the classroom; tips to get ready for reading, writing and math; and a month-by-month guide to help families stay on track with kindergarten registration, vaccinations and more.
The United Way of Weld County coordinates a similar program. Raising A Reader fosters healthy brain development, parent-child bonding and early literacy skills critical for school success by engaging parents in a routine of daily “book cuddling” with their children from birth to age 5. Each week, Raising A Reader participants take home four developmentally appropriate, multicultural children’s books. The program also includes an introduction about how to use the public library, setting up families for a lifetime of book enjoyment.
It's all relative
While programs like those mentioned above have their place in child development, the most important factor that influences early brain development is "…the presence of consistent, strong, supportive, nurturing relationships…," says Navsaria. "There’s a lot about brain development that has been discovered, and much more that we don’t yet know, but the essence of it is that the only thing that drives development forward early in life is interaction with a loving, responsive, nurturing adult. The 'serve and return' back-and-forth between an adult and a child helps wire crucial circuitry and is the only thing that has been proven to have any developmental benefit. Let me emphasize this: no app, no DVD, no toy has any evidence of benefit to child development in a child under age 3. Period."
"Early Brain and Child Development (including toxic stress and childhood adversity)"
The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County invites you to a special presentation and community conversation featuring Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
When: September 11, 6:30-8:30pm and September 12, 8:30am-12pm
Where: Drake Center, 802 W. Drake Rd., Fort Collins
For more information: 970-377-3388, ext. 203 or www.ecclc.org
Funded by the Leap Coalition, a Larimer County wide initiative doing amazing things to help support Birth-5 year olds with social-emotional development and well-being.