As a parenting book author, parenting specialist, and early childhood educator for many years, I pass on to you this well-researched and highly valued concept. “An enriched early learning environment in the first three to five years sets the stage for later success in school, and it is the R, S, & T of parenting—reading, singing, and talking to young children that hold the key.” In addition, “Of all the input young children receive in the early years, it is high quality and high quantity language that plays the biggest role.”
Every few years “news” about the early years (birth to three and continuing on to age five) emerges again. Each time it appears it is made to seem like the information is brand new and never been known before. However, people who have been studying this subject for many years know about it and are familiar with the many studies that have been done over time. Now it is my pleasure to fill you in from a historical perspective on what we know, how we know it, and most important of all, what we need to do about it for the benefit of our young children.
In the Far East the people plant a tree called the Chinese Bamboo. During the first four years they water and fertilize the plant with seemingly little or no results. Then in the fifth year they again apply water and fertilizer, and in five weeks’ time the tree grows ninety feet in height. Most Asian people know this story, and they know it for a very good reason—it helps them to understand how important it is to provide an enriched early educational environment for their children in the first five years. While each book you read to your child, song you sing, or individual conversation that you have does not in itself make a major impact, taken all together they have great value and make the world of difference. Your child knows, and now you know too, that what you do on a daily basis to enrich his or her environment is exactly what is needed to give him or her the best start possible.
In 1975 Professor Burton White from Harvard University completed 30 years of research with this research question. “What is it that is different in the lives of children who succeed in school from those who do not?” While he thought he was going to find out that it was because of what happens to children at ages four and five, he found out it was because of what happens to them from birth to age three. As a matter of fact, the research showed that children who were well developed by the time they are three were automatically predictive of being successful in school at age five. All of his research is documented in his book called The First Three Years of Life.
Almost 20 years later the Carnegie Commission carried the ball even further. They completed a multi-million dollar study in 1994 to answer this research question, “Why do we have so much crime and violence in this country?” While they thought they were going to find out that it was because of what happens to teens, young adults, and with our prison system, they discovered that it was because of what happens to children in the first three years. Those deprived of nurturing love, guidance, support, protection, and educational stimulation were the ones who turned to crime and violence. This Carnegie Commission study confirmed what Burton White one had already alerted us to—the importance of positive parent-child interactions. It then went one step beyond and made it perfectly clear what happens when children are not provided with it.
This story continued in 1997 with the publication of the book Meaningful Differences by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. It explained about the effects of early experiences on the brain. The study showed brain scans of young children who were exposed to different kinds of language. Those who experienced mostly phrases like “Go away; stop that; put that away” had small and under developed brains; while those who were exposed to longer nurturing sentences like “Come over here; how can I help you; let’s pay together” had brains that were larger and more well-developed. These differences were noted in the first three years with irreversible consequences beginning at age two.
According to a groundbreaking report released by the National Academies of Science, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: the Science of Early Childhood Development, parents structure experience and shape the environment within which a young child’s early development unfolds. Infants and toddlers need unhurried time with their parents to form the critical relationships with them that will serve as the foundation for social, emotional, and cognitive development. The better parents know their children, the more readily they will recognize even the most subtle cues that indicate what children need to promote their healthy growth and development. (Excerpted from the “Statement of Zero to Three Policy Center,” submitted to the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, by Matthew E. Melmed, J.D., Executive Director, Zero to Three, January 24, 2007)
Just recently in January 2015 National Geographic magazine published a feature article called The First Year of Life. According to this news by accomplished writer Yudhijit Bhattacharjee “the lightening pace of development in these early years coincides with the formation of a vast skein of neural circuits. At birth the brain has nearly a hundred billion neurons, as many as in adulthood. As the baby grows, receiving a flood of sensory input, neurons get wired to other neurons, resulting in some hundred trillion connections by age three. Different stimuli… help establish different neural networks. Circuits get strengthened through repeated activation.” Each circuit that gets activated represents learning, and learning on the baby toddler level is an everyday all-day-long rapid-fire process.
What Does a Parent Need to Do?
Be aware of what is going on. While every baby is fully-equipped to seek appropriate attention, each parent should know that it is up to him or her to provide the basics. Adequate stimulation is the answer and also not difficult. Parents do it naturally through providing for a young child a genuinely enriched educational environment. Getting more specific, the R, S & T of parenting will do it. Read, sing, and talk to your child as much as possible. It is that simple.
As you read with your child, or if you have the pleasure of hearing your child read to you, you are providing enrichment. On the highest level a young reader enjoys practicing words for fluency and accuracy. For preschoolers great fun awaits by filling in words from memory. Moving down to babies and toddlers, they are happy just by hearing language of any kind and interacting in their own ways as much as possible. Sing as much as you want, any songs, and even off key. Young child will love it and soon begin to sing with his or her own joy. Then talk, talk, and talk more as you hug, touch and play. Act natural and be yourself. That is what works. All children thrive on love because it is open, honest, and most of all fun.
Just as each tree depends on optimal daily care, so does each child. No matter what skills and abilities a child has potential for, all childhood care will either foster or hinder that growth. Because the whole process is based on each child having the finest experiences, each parent should know how to provide them. Because everything a parent says and does has an impact, that is our business; and we here on EarlyChildhoodNews.net are proud to provide guidance.