Books

Three Key Years

by George C. Halvorson

Too many people do not know that the first three years of life are key to the brain development of each child.

Children whose brains are exercised in those key years — by adults who talk, read, and directly interact with each child — have stronger brains. The brains of children who are isolated and who do not get that needed exercise in those first three years are at a major disadvantage — and it is extremely difficult to regain that ground for those children once those first key years have passed.

We need all children to have their brains exercised in those key years. We also need all children to have the sense of security that comes from having interactions with a loving adult in those key years. We need people to know the epigenetic impacts that happen in the first weeks and months of life — and we need people to all know the extremely important impact the first years of life have on the learning ability levels for each child.

We also need people to know how to avoid the kinds of experiences for children that generate basic negative neurochemicals that can physically damage the brains of children who are isolated in those key months and years — causing toxic stress syndrome realities that can damage a child for life.

Three Key Years explains what parents, family, communities, and day care settings can all do to strengthen each child’s brain in those key months and years and create a sense of security for each child. A top public health priority for our nation should be to teach that information about those key months and years to every single parent even before each child is born. We owe it to every parent to explain that science and we all need to do what we can do to share those realities about helping their children in those key time frames with every single parent.

Three Key Years also explains what caregivers can do to help parents in those essential time frames and explains what communities and community leaders can do to change the lives for each child.

Every child that we save is a child who benefits for life. We need to save every child — and we need to do it in ways that are directed specifically at each and every child we save.

Each brain develops on its own. Each brain needs basic exercise in those first months and years to be strong.

Exercise takes very basic forms. Talking, reading, interacting, and singing to each child exercises each brain and those simple interactions directly strengthen each child’s brain.

The learning gaps between groups of children that exist in too many communities and schools today do not need to exist and they will disappear for children from every group if we simply have trusted adults talking, reading, and singing to and with each child.

We finally know now why those major learning gaps exist in far too many of our schools. It is not racial or ethnic or even economic. It is simply and purely behavioral. We know what behaviors change babies’ lives.

Studies show, for example, that higher income people tend to speak many more words directly to each child and that higher income people tend to read many more books to each child.

High-income homes average 12 books per child. More than half of the lowest income homes — and more than half of the day cares for the lowest income children — do not have a single book. The higher income homes read to their children more than 1500 hours per child between birth and kindergarten. The lowest income homes read fewer than 30 hours to their children in those same years.

More than half of all births in America this year will be in Medicaid homes. Roughly half of the Medicaid homes have no books and the children without books clearly do not benefit from daily reading. However — more than 30 percent of the Medicaid mothers do have books and those mothers tend to read every day to their children.

It can be done. It can be done for every child. It can be done regardless of income level and it can be done regardless of the race or ethnicity or gender of the child. We can help the children from every group and every income level get that needed brain exercise in those key months and years. We need every child from every group to have adults talking to them, interacting with them, and reading to them in those key months and years. 

When we do that for every child, we will make the learning gaps that give us so many challenges disappear.

Three Key Years explains how that can be done, and why we very much need to do it. If you do not have a young child yourself, give the book to someone who has a newborn child, or to someone about to have a child. You can literally change a life by simply giving that book as a gift to someone who will now make different parenting decisions that will change the life trajectory for their child.

There may not be any other thing you can do at this point in your life that can have such a huge impact on the life of another person.

Children can be healthier and happier and smarter if you give their parents this book. Grandparents also are perfect recipients of this book, because grandparents really want their grandchildren to do well.

So giving this book to a grandparent might be something that they will love you for doing.