We Need to Help Every Family Help Every Child Exercise Their Brain
April 16, 2018
The science of brain development for children is increasingly clear — and we have failed miserably in sharing that very clear and important science about the powerful impact of development activities in the first weeks, months, and years of life for each child in useful and effective ways with far too many families and parents in America.
More than half of our births this year will be in Medicaid families — and that fact should give us a wonderful opportunity to share that powerful new science in effective ways with large numbers of families at exactly the right time for that information to be the most useful for each child.
We fail entirely in that process, and we do not have any programs in place to explain to Medicaid Mothers that they can strengthen the brain of their baby by doing a number of basic and highly effective things in the first weeks, months, and years of life to exercise their child’s brain.
Not sharing that information with every family in America before every baby is born or immediately after the birth of each child is almost a criminal act now that we understand those development processes, and now that we know how important those first weeks, months, and years of life are for each child.
The children who do not get simple and direct brain exercise in the first years of life fall behind — and it is extremely difficult for children who fall behind before age four to catch up later.
Learning gaps in far too many of our schools are huge, with a growing number of children on the low end of the gap in a high percentage of the schools, and we have not made any progress in closing those gaps for almost two decades because we have done almost nothing to help far too many children in far too many settings in those first years of life when those gaps are being created or prevented for every group of children.
The children who fall behind at that point tend to have much more difficult and challenging lives. The consequences of being behind before prekindergarten include being in poor health, being unemployed, and even going to jail.
We have more people in prison than any country in the world by a wide margin. We have seven times more people in jail per capita than Canada.
We disproportionately put people in jail who drop out of school.
We now can know with an extremely high level of accuracy at age three that a number of children are on a pathway to prison because the children who drop out of school are much more likely to go to jail.
We can now know with a very high level of accuracy by age three which children are not having their brain exercised and which children are highly likely to drop out of school, and have significant health problems and who are much more likely to end up in prison.
Sixty percent of African American males who have dropped out of high school and who are in their 30s are in jail today.
That compares to roughly 10 percent of the African American males in their 30s who graduated from high school who are currently in jail.
Ten percent of African American graduates in prison is a horrible, damaging, and highly discriminatory number all by itself.
Sixty percent is even worse. Sixty percent in prison today is a tragedy and a nightmare, and it is an abomination and a kind of crime all by itself because we could have known by age three which of those people in jail today were already headed down that pathway to prison, and we could and should have done things to change that pathway for each of those children.
We can know that those children are on those difficult and challenging paths by age three, because the growing science of brain development teaches us that the very first years of life are when extremely important neuron connectivity levels in the millions and billions of connections are set for each child’s brain, and we now know that each child ends up on a life trajectory that is hugely influenced by the number of neurons that have connected.
The issues for each child are not ethnic or racial or genetic or economic or sociological or even cultural. The absolutely relevant issues for brain growth for each and every child are behavioral, functional, experiential, and extremely biological.
Those issues are extremely biological because biology creates the opportunity and the timeframes for each child and the basic biology that has that huge impact on the life of each child in those weeks, months, and years is basically the same for every child.
That is extremely important information for us all to understand. If we want to be successful as a country, and if we want to be both safe and prosperous as a nation, we need to understand those processes and how relevant they are for the population of our country for the next several decades.
We need to start with the knowledge from the wonderful new science that the biology is the same for every child and the behavioral opportunities and the purely biological developmental processes and physical structure timeframes for having an impact on the brain are the same for every child from every group.
Everyone who is concerned about the future of our education system as a country — and who is concerned about both our future work force and our future prison populations — should know what this new science is teaching us about each of those extremely important issues.
We should each understand that science and its direct impact on each child born in America in order to understand both the problems and the opportunities that we have for children in our country today, and to have a clear awareness of the future we will have as a society and a nation based on the experiences that are happening right now for all of the children who are being born today.
Our children are our future — and our future is being born right now. Far, far, far too many children are not getting the start they will need to be successful members of our society at multiple levels right now — and when we have twice as many people at the low ends of the learning gaps coming out of our schools, that will make their lives far more difficult, and it will actually make us both unsafe and uncompetitive as a country.
People who are aging in our country today are counting on a future where we will have a new generation of people who will be there to do the work we will need to do as a nation when we are retired, and when we will need basic work done to keep society functioning and to help us all with our own needs and our personal functionality support as we age.
The numbers of people who will be available to do that work when we need it done are easy to predict — and they look very grim. When we have twice as many people at the low end of the learning gap at a point in time when we need our workforce to grow and be extremely capable, that is not the right place for us to be.
That future does not need to happen. The wonderful new brain science is showing us things that we can do now to make those issues much less damaging to us all, and to give us a future workforce who will have good lives because they are capable of doing that work that needs to be done.
The choice is ours at this point in time.
We can do some very good things now to give us a better future. Or we can continue on the path we are on today, and we can end up with a future that is highly negative for far too many people in multiple very important ways, and we will not be able to have many of our basic needs met as a society, and we will have far too many people with damaged and problematic lives.
The major learning gaps that we see in too many of our schools create a major part of our future trajectory as a nation. We all need to understand the new science. We all need to know that the most basic processes and timeframes for neuron connectivity are the same for children from every ethnic, racial, social, and economic group, and then we need to do the right things for children from every group to give us a successful future as a nation that is not divided against itself in dangerous ways.
The process has to start immediately for every child. Catching up is not a strategy that has any likelihood of succeeding. The first weeks and months are key to the developmental process — and that is new information to most of us.
The impact of the first weeks, months, and years of life are extremely important for us all to understand at this moment in time because if we miss that opportunity, it is gone, and it will not return for each child.
We now know from that wonderful research being done at those great academic institutions and at those enlightened and insightful care sites that the children from every group end up on the path for their life that is started for each child by that direct and individual connectivity experience and by the sets of interactions that happen for each child in those first weeks, months, and years of life.
The timeframes for each child are as important as the process. The timeframes are extremely important and need to be understood, because we can’t repair some of the damage outside of those limited time slots for each life, and because we can do truly wonderful things for children inside of those timeframes at levels that we did not know existed or were possible to do before these processes became clear to us.
At age four, the developmental process for each child changes. The brain of each child actually goes through a biological purging process beginning at age four where each brain gets rid of the neuron connections that were not utilized for that child in the first weeks, months, and years of life.
We need to do things to keep needed neurons from being purged from young children’s brains at that point in their lives. That is possible to do — but reducing the number of neuron connections that get purged for each child as part of that process will not happen serendipitously or accidentally or fortuitously. Minimizing the impact of that purging process needs to be intentionally addressed for each and every child because it is an intensely personal and individual and direct process for each child.
The premise is simple.
The process is simple and clear.
Exercising a child’s brain in that key timeframe strengthens the brain.
We need every family and every parent and every community in America to understand that those timeframes and those basic processes happen for every child, and we also need everyone relevant to know what kinds of interactions with children strengthen brains.
Those brain exercise and adult interaction activities that happen for each child in those first weeks, months, and years change lives — and families and communities who do not have and know that information about those processes cannot use it to help their children at those key points in their lives.
The wonderful new brain science now tells us all that the first months and years of life are when neuron connections happen in the brains of all children and it points us very clearly to things that we can do to help each child strengthen his or her brain that every parent, family, community, and group can use and do to help each child.
Brain Exercise in the First Weeks, Months, and Years Builds Strong Brains
Brain exercise makes brains stronger.
Most people used to believe that we all were born with whatever intelligence levels and whatever brain strength that we would each have for our entire lives. Most people thought that we each have to play the brain strength cards for life that we were each dealt at birth.
That belief was entirely wrong. We now know that we can and should exercise the brains of children to give them stronger brains because we are not each born with our full brain strength levels. We build them — and the building process for each brain happens directly with each child.
The new science is extremely useful if we care about how our children experience the world and if we want every child to get the best start into that world, and to have the ability to do well in school and in their adult life interactions with the world they will live in.
We now know that the brain exercise that happens or does not happen for each individual child in those first weeks, months and years of life puts each of our children on the path they will be on for their entire life and we now know from that great research that lives can be very different based on different levels of brain connection activity that happens in those first weeks, months and years of life for each child.
The first three years are extremely important years for strengthening brains.
We should not give up on any child at age four and we should not give up helping each and every child at any point in time because we can still make a positive difference for each child throughout their lives. Giving up on any child at any age or any point in time would be the wrong thing to do for many reasons.
We can still help children in key areas of their lives after age four.
But we all need to understand and appreciate that it is far more difficult to make the brain stronger after that age and multiple studies that have been done in far too many settings show us that most children who have fallen behind by age four tend to stay behind for life.
We have entire communities where far too many children have fallen behind by age four and never catch up. The children who have fallen behind in the first three years of life and who never learn to read well in school as a result and who have a much more difficult time with mathematical learning are far more likely to drop out of school. That particular pattern of behavior that involves dropping out of school makes sense for those children and it is easy to understand because it is harder for anyone to stay in school when you can’t read or do basic mathematics.
The children who drop out of school because they can’t read or do math far too often have a difficult time finding employment. The sad and painful reality is that far too many children who drop out of school find that the only economic infrastructure that accepts them and gives them a personal source of income is gangs and crime.
The functional reality we see about gangs as a source of personal income for dropouts and gangs as an influence on behavior in our neighborhoods and our communities are stark and grim.
We now have more than thirty three thousand gangs in America and the presence and impact of gangs is growing in far too many communities.
Ninety percent of the murders in Chicago are done by gang members, and 90 percent of the gang members in Chicago dropped out of school. Other cities have similar patterns for both gangs and dropouts.
We can predict future gang involvement long before kindergarten for children in each of those cities. We could have known with more than 80 percent accuracy at age three which of those children in each of those cities were on the path to dropping out of school and headed for major economic difficulties and challenges and a much higher likelihood of joining a gang.
We should not give up on any children. In fact, now that we understand these processes and their impact, we need to make a special effort to help all of the children who have fallen behind and we need to figure out alternative employment options for people whose only easy options now are in gangs.
We need to better understand those initial learning and brain exercise processes and what they create for each child and we need to change our employment expectations for many of the children who drop out of school in some way to give people who want to work and who do not have a high school degree a functional alternative to getting their cash flow to buy food and to clothe themselves from some source of funds other than crime.
That is a different set of issues, but it is one that deserves our attention because it affects so many people and it is not going to go away because we wish it were not true.
We need to help the children who have fallen behind. We also need to have far, far, far fewer children falling behind.
We all need to know and understand that the best way of keeping people out of gangs and out of prison is to have them learning ready when they get to school.
Learning ready children needs to be our strategy and goal.
We are not going to solve the problems of gangs in Chicago — or any other major city that has neighborhoods, schools, communities and local jails dominated by gangs — until we begin a process of helping every new child born into each of those communities get the right start and be learning ready before kindergarten in a way that will allow everyone to graduate from high schools in order to give them a chance of having a future where their livelihood is no longer dependent on being employed by a gang.
We need to be painfully honest with ourselves about those realities and about the future they are creating for us as a country. We need to be very real in our thinking about those issues and we need to understand that it will be very bad for our future as a country at multiple levels if we do not help many more of our children become learning ready for school in those key weeks, months, and years when their life paths are determined by the support we give them in those timeframes when those learning capabilities are created in each child.
We need to understand how many children will be on the low end of the learning gap in our schools this year — and we need to be very honest with ourselves about the impact that having that many children with low learning levels will do both for those children and for us as a country who will be heavily dependent on those children in the relatively near future to be in the jobs that keep us functioning as a country.
We need to do basic things for every child in the first years of life that will ultimately make those learning gaps disappear in our schools. We need to help every parent and family to understand those processes and opportunities for their child in order to succeed at making those gaps disappear.
Making the future learning gaps disappear for our schools is entirely possible to do. We can do far better than we are doing with that issue. We actually can have children from every group with the achievement levels we see for children in our highest scoring groups today.
But that future will not happen for more children in our key settings unless we do some very basic things to make it happen and unless we are entirely honest with ourselves both about where we are today with those gaps and why they exist.
We sometimes fear that having conversations about our real learning gap numbers and talking about them with each other will somehow damage our children. We need to overcome that fear, because we need to know the real numbers we are facing today in the real world in every community and school in order to know where we need to focus our efforts to make those learning gaps disappear for all groups in all settings.
The learning gaps exist in every state and the patterns look very much alike across multiple states.
When you look at actual learning gaps by group at the high school level for the State of California last year, we can see that for reading at basic competency levels, 75 percent of the Asian American children in that state are reading at grade level in high school. Sixty four percent of the White children in California are currently reading at grade level.
That drops down to basically 37 percent of the Latino children and to 30 percent of the African American children who are reading at grade level in high schools in California this year.
For mathematics scores, 72 percent of the Asian American children in California are currently at grade level in high school. That compares to 52 percent of the White children, 25 percent of the Latino children, and 19 percent of the African American children.
We need to do the right things now to keep those learning gaps from being the gaps we see in perpetuity in our schools. We know that we can make those gaps disappear, because we know what causes them, and we can change the things that cause them in very intentional and effective ways. Every child has the ability to do far better with the right interactions in those first key weeks, months, and years.
We know from the results that we get when we interact with each child from each group that those learning level scores could and should be the same for every group. And we know from the positive results of those interactions with children that the scores actually could and should be higher for every group.
We Need the Learning Gaps to Disappear in Every State
Our goal as a nation should be to get the scores for every group up to the scores of the highest achievement group today, and to also help that group improve its scores because this wonderful new brain development science about the impact of supportive interactions with children the first weeks, months, and years of life can help even in the highest-scoring group when it is fully understood as a process and a science by all parents and the entire community in that group as well.
The numbers we see now are clearly unacceptable to us as a nation. They put us at real risk.
We should set a goal of having 80 percent of children from every group reading at grade level when the children who are being born today to every group are fifteen years old. We should have an overall education agenda that calls for us to help each child born in America with those interactions in those first weeks, months, and years of life.
We will not need to wait fifteen years until the students take their high school learning tests to see how well we are doing to close those gaps.
More than 80 percent of the children who are at the right stage of learning readiness in kindergarten stay on the right learning path into high school. Kindergarten does not happen fifteen years from now. Kindergarten start at age five for most children. We can measure then and have comfort that the measure is valid and legitimate.
We will know if we are on the right path for changing our future as a country if 80 percent of the children who are being born today score as being learning ready when they get to kindergarten in five years.
Right now, fewer than half of the children in the lowest scoring groups are learning ready at five years old — and some groups are below 30 percent.
We can have a huge impact on children from every group if we all understand exactly what these processes are and teach them to every parent and family, and then figure out way of helping every child have the benefit of someone talking to them in those timeframes.
We could do that as a country, using informed parents as our most important component of the plan and then supplementing that with other resources as needed for each child.
More than half of our births will be paid for by Medicaid. That gives us a great direct link to each mother and child.
We need Medicaid to have every obstetrician and pediatrician and care-giving nurse helping families to understand these issues.
We need the WIC programs that coach Medicaid mothers on nutrition to also coach on brain growth.
We need the nurse-family partnership teams who do wonderful coaching on multiple issues now to add brain exercise to their tool kit and to help families learn those basic interactions.
We know that the number of children reported for neglect or abuse is reduced already by more than two-thirds after the nurse-family partnership support happens for families. Those results will be enhanced when brain-strength teaching is added to their skill set and tool kit.
We need Early Head Start teams to build this teaching into their curriculum. It is there for some of those programs now, but the science is new enough that it is not done in every setting, and we need to make that teaching and support universal for our children.
We need to use all of those approaches and more because we now know that the learning scores for every group can be changed hugely by providing help to every child in those magical, high potential, high impact, and developmentally crucial timeframes when the neuron connectivity in each brain is triggered in wonderful and powerful ways by direct interactions that happen with each child.
Miraculous things happen when children get that support in those weeks, months, and years. Literally millions and billions of neurons connect by the hour when those interactions happen with a child.
If we do not do the right things to strengthen brains in a loving and supportive way with each of our children, we will not close the very high learning gaps in our schools, and we will face some grim and expensive consequences as a nation.
The learning gaps that exist by group in California today look very much like the gaps that exist in other states. Slightly more than half of all births in America this year will be to minority mothers, and our pattern has been for the lower scores in almost all of the schools to be from our minority group children.
Roughly 15 percent of the population of children in California today is Asian American, roughly 30 percent is White, nearly 50 percent of the population is Hispanic, and about 5 percent of the people in California are African American.
Medicaid will pay for more than half of the births this year in the entire country, and Medicaid will be paying for slightly more than 55 percent of the births in California.
Having Medicaid pay for more than half of our births tells us that we have a wonderful opportunity to use our Medicaid program to help our children even before they are born.
We know that the Medicaid program has constant contact with all of those mothers at several levels and we know that Medicaid has done a horrible job in the past teaching that science to Medicaid mothers and families.
That horrible performance by Medicaid on that issue can be fixed.
Medicaid should create a public health campaign based on helping children get the right start in those key areas of development. That would qualify as a public health campaign at several levels because we know that high school dropouts are far more likely to have asthma, diabetes, and to use illegal drugs. We know that depression levels are higher for dropouts.
So we can improve the health status of millions of people by helping them graduate from high school, and we now know that the support we give to each child for brain strengthening activities before age three is the key factor for helping graduation to happen.
We need to use Medicaid now and well to teach the science of helping children in the first weeks, months, and years of life to every Medicaid Mother and to every Medicaid family to both increase the graduation rates and improve the health of millions of people.
We need people from every group to be helping children with those issues — and we need everyone who looks at the gaps that exist between groups now to know very clearly that DNA does not create those gaps.
Neither does the amount of money in anyone’s bank account. Some people say explicitly that poverty directly causes learning gaps.
That is bad causality science and it is a factually incorrect and inaccurate statement. There is no actual functional and physical link between any number in any bank account and the physical neuron connections that exist in any child’s brain.
That is important to understand, because if we believe that bank accounts somehow physically create links between the cells in our brains, then the strategy for educating children more effectively and creating stronger brains might involve and include moving money into different accounts to make those connections happen.
That is not possible to do. That link does not exist.
However, the topics of relative wealth and brain exercise are not unrelated.
We do see behavior patterns for families that have links to available resources. Families with more money find it much easier to provide books and families with more money can find it easier to find time to talk to children in ways that strengthen the brain of a child. But those behavior differences are enabled in each setting and in each family by the family’s money without being functionally and physically caused by it.
There is a rich stream of research showing that families with more money spend more time in direct interactions with their children — and it is clear at functional levels that families with little or no money have a harder time both spending time with children and even affording books for their children.
The average middle income home has a dozen books per child. More than half of the Medicaid homes in one study did not have a single book.
A study from the University of California at Berkeley showed that only one-third of Hispanic Families had books in the home for children. That study showed that the average Hispanic child was six months behind in development measurements at age four, and that the children in the homes with books were not behind the rest of the population on learning skills at that point.
That study — and others — show that there can be a behavioral connection between economic levels and interaction levels, but the relevant wealth of any family does not actually have a direct, physical, causality driven functional impact on any child’s brain. The interactions that happen with each child create that impact.
The children from every group and every economic level who have someone talking to them, reading to them, and interacting with them in direct ways in those weeks, months and years do well.
We have obvious and visible star performers in our country from every group who prove that to be true every single day.
We have people from every group who have done well, and many who have done incredibly well, and that is because there was at least one some one in the life of each person who has done well who interacted with that child in those key weeks, months, and years when those developmental processes were happening.
The new science of brain development has given us some incredibly powerful insights and knowledge about all of those processes, but we have failed miserably at this point in time in helping our families understand those processes and those opportunities.
We have done a particularly bad job getting that information to low-income families.
We have done a horrible job of teaching that information and that brain science to far too many new mothers and fathers in America. Too many parents are not doing things they would be doing for their children and with their children right now if that information were known by every family and every community.
We know that when parents of every income level are given that information about the ability we have to talk, read, and exercise the brain of a child to strengthen a brain, that information tends to get used in ways that help children from every group.
All parents love their children. All parents and families want their kids to do well. Even when times are difficult and when economic situations and functional realities are grim, when a mother or father or aunt or uncle or cousin or grandparent knows that information about the positive impact of those direct interactions with their children, they can use that knowledge in various ways to help change the life trajectory for their child.
Billions of neurons connect when we just talk in safe and interactive ways with a very young child. That is extremely important science for parents to know for each child.
The wiring we all have rewards those activities and those interactions.
Those inter active behaviors and activities generate positive neurochemicals for adults and they feel even better for children. Having caring adults talk and read and interact with a child feels wonderful to children and multiple studies have shown the joy and the excitement that happen for a child when those interactions are happening for them.
Children very much love having those interactions. The researchers are telling us that very young children crave those interactions. The Harvard Center for The Developing Child has shared some excellent information about those interactions and their impacts on very small children. We now know that their tiny new brains are eager and ready and very able to use those interactions with a caring adult to get strong from the first hours, weeks, and months of life.
There are a dozen other teaching and research organizations that are teaching us about those same wonderful capabilities for children in those timeframes. The program run by Dr. Patricial Kuhl and Dr. Andrew Meltzoff at The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle is doing wonderful and powerful work on those issues.
Stanford, Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and UCLA all have great programs showing the impact of loving interactions with children in those key timeframes, and the impact on lifelong learning that is anchored in those first months and years of interactions for children.
Dr. Beatrice Beebe and her team at Columbia University has done some exceptional work in that area and they have even drilled down into the extremely important impacts of the first hundred days of life for each child.
The results of all of that research are very enabling for parents, families, and communities in important ways.
We see wonderful explosions in the neuron connectivity levels in individual children from every group that are almost miraculous in their hugely positive impact on each child when the child has someone in their life who is interacting directly with them in those ways.
We should be deeply ashamed of ourselves as a country for not teaching that information to every family and we should not forgive ourselves if we do not very quickly figure out how to share that information with all families and all communities in ways that can help every child.
We should make sharing that information a top priority for us as a country — and each of us who knows that information as adults and as community members should be taking on the responsibility and opportunity to share it with relevant people in our lives.
It Would be Wonderful if You Personally Shared This Information With Someone Relevant
It would be a very good thing if you, personally, would join the effort to get this information about those wonderful opportunities to everyone who should know it.
You know people. Please. Share this information with people who you know who should know about these processes, problems, and opportunities for our youngest children.
To make that information sharing as easy as possible, it is simple just to refer people to the Three key Years. Org website. Check the website out now in both and English and Spanish and see if you can think of a way to share it with someone who will benefit from that information.
There are also several links to useful information brief and succinct documents and materials at the end of this piece that you can both print or send by email to people.
Those pieces include letters to parents you can print, and post cards you can send that explain the brain development opportunities to parents and families in clear and simple ways.
Grandparents particularly love getting this information.
There are very few gifts that you can give grandparents that will be appreciated more than giving them ways of helping their grandchildren be healthier and happier and more learning ready.
Also — please share this information with any caregivers who you think might enjoy getting this information. Many caregivers understand this information well, but much of the science is new, and many caregivers have been so focused on their day job that they have not had a chance to learn about this set of findings and opportunities.
We need to get all of the relevant caregivers for this country in the teaching loop for those issues. Most do now know this science, but many do not and you will do them a huge favor by linking them to the Mayo Clinic Grand Rounds piece listed below or to the Harvard Center for the Developing Child web link about brain development, or to the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences for current information.
You could change the lives of thousands of people if you happen to give this information to a caregiver who has not heard if from another source.
We also need to have babysitters, day care workers, and family members who care for children to know that those interactions they are having with the child they are helping are magical and to know that reading a book to a baby in those early years is more than pleasant — it is stunningly powerful as a growth tool for the brain of the child you are reading to.
We definitely need to insist that the people who run our Medicaid programs and who administer our Medicaid programs in every state get that information to every Medicaid family that has a baby or young child. Suggest to your congressional representative and to the people who run Medicaid for your state that Medicaid should be sharing that information with every family. They pay for care and they have a very direct link to the people who deliver that care.
We need to have that information shared with parents by the caregivers for each family and we need Medicaid to encourage and support that process of coaching and teaching by caregivers.
We need the WIC programs of America that teach nutrition and healthy eating today to low-income mothers to also teach brain grown and healthy learning to every low-income Mom.
We do need the nurses who work with the wonderful nurse family partnerships in many cities to include brain development coaching for the families they support. The work done by Dr. Beebe and her team at Columbia about the impact of the first hundred days of life might be of particular value to the partnership nurses.
We clearly need the people who run the early Head Start programs to make teaching that information to every family they serve a priority.
We need faith leaders to get that information to their parishioners from every faith — and we need community leaders who want their communities to thrive to get that information to every family and to every relevant member of their community. Please share this information with the faith leaders in your life.
We need mayors who hate having gangs ruining neighborhoods in their cities to take a leadership role in making sure that the kids who are being born today do not end up in gangs. You can take this information directly to your mayor, and are very likely to have your input appreciated, because mayors hate having learning gaps in their schools, and they often have a special credibility that could cause that information to change lives when they share it. Mayors tend to be very open to responding to their voters in direct ways and are often very effective communicators.
We need Surround Sound on those issues for every new parent in America and we need that information delivered by Trusted Messengers to the parent of every child in the country.
Now that we each have that knowledge and insight about those processes and realities, we also each have an ethical, moral, economic, social, and functional obligation and imperative as both individuals and communities to use that information to change the lives of children who are being born today.
We each owe it to children who are being born today to have that knowledge somehow have a positive impact on their lives. Children do not ask to be born. If children are born on our watch as adults for this society, we should each do the right things to help the children get the support they need in various ways in the times when that support is most useful.
Knowledge is Power.
Knowledge about this particular extremely important opportunity that we have to change lives creates an ethical obligation in each of us about how to use it. Knowledge about massive opportunities to change lives also creates its own set of ethical obligations for people who share that knowledge to do the right things for children in their lives.
The biological reality and the timeframes for brain development that exist for each child need to be understood by everyone who is concerned about having all of our students get the right education in our schools.
We also need to understand the impact on people’s lives of the learning gaps that exist now for so many people, and we need to do the right thing to help all of the children who have fallen behind and who cannot get to the levels of learning we want them to have to have better lives.
We now need to rethink our education strategy and our support agenda for the children who have fallen farthest behind because we now understand why they are where they are. We need to figure out wonderful, positive, and effective support agendas for each child who has fallen behind in order to give them the best possible lives with the education levels they have and can achieve.
We need to rethink some key aspects of the full scope of education in America as part of that process.
We should not blame the schools for those learning gaps.
Large numbers of people in the world of public education have been optimistically and naively unrealistic about how much progress can happen in our grade schools and high schools to close those learning gaps when so many students were not learning ready when they arrived in school. We have people who have been working hard to close those gaps in many settings who have failed in that effort only because the students they have been trying so hard to teach were not learning ready when they arrived in school.
We need the people who plan the future of our education system in every setting to understand those issues and to know why those extremely well intentioned programs in so many settings have failed and to put support programs in place everywhere to help the children who are being born now to be ready when they get to school.
We also now need to have our school systems and the people who run them think about the very best things we can do to help the children who have fallen behind in all of those settings somehow have better lives.
We Need to Keep Neuron Connections from Being Purged from the Brain of Each Child
We all need to understand the power and functional significance of the science that teaches us that brain in each and every child actually changes biologically at age four and to know that billions of neuron connections that have not been used in the first three years of life actually get purged from the brain at that very early point in the life of each child.
The Harvard Center for the Developing Child has some excellent videos showing the impact of that purging process that happens at age four.
To avoid being purged at age four, the neuron connections in the brain of each child need to be used.
The steps needed to use those neuron connections and exercise and strengthen the brain of each child are actually simple. Each of the steps can be done anywhere, and they can all be done by a wide range of people.
Talk, read, play, count, interact, and sing interactions with each child can happen anywhere and any family member or caring adult can do them.
Each of those very basic and easy to do interactions strengthens a child’s brain and we need to make sure that someone is doing them with every child.
Talking Creates Millions and Billions of Neuron Connections
Talking, alone, has immense power all by itself to build brain strength.
Talking directly in an interactive way to a child in those key first weeks, months and years, makes billions of neurons connect and just talking directly to a child with no other activities involved can have a major positive impact on strengthening the brain of a child.
We need every family in America to know and understand and believe that they can give their child a wonderful gift of millions and billions of neuron connections that will last for life, simply by talking directly in direct and interactive ways with their child.
Reading is also very good to do for a child.
Books are a wonderful learning tool — and can be used very early after each child is born.
Reading to a child and interacting directly with a child also can make the brain strong and those interactions can also create both emotional resources and cognitive resources in each child.
Counting with each child is also important and simple counting interactions with a child builds brain strength. Simple counting on points like — “How many apples are there in that bowl?” — can teach cognitive skills and can help a child learn numbers skills at the point in time when the brain is eager to count.
Those interactions with a child can happen from a mother or a father or any other family member or with any other trusted adult in the life of each child in that extremely important time frame. Children in those weeks, months and years need direct and safe interactions with adults they trust and children with those interactions have an explosion in the connection strength in their brain.
If a family is not available for any of a number of reasons to help a child, we need to have a caregiver or a daycare person, or even someone from the community who can interact in a trusted way with each child have those interactions with each child.
The Harvard Center for the Developing Child has done some incredibly powerful research about those processes and timeframes.
Not interacting with a child can hurt a child in multiple ways.
Children who do not have supportive interactions with an adult in the first weeks and months of life or who have directly negative interactions in those timeframes can end up with toxic stress syndrome — and that set of issues, all by itself, can create major lifetime damage to children.
No child is exempt from that developmental process or those timeframes.
Every single child needs someone to talk to them in those key timeframes. We did not know that to be true until very recently — but now that we know it to be true, we need to use it to guide our thinking and our lives.
Some of the old medical teachings about what was happening for children in those timeframes were actually wrong. Our pediatricians and obstetricians and primary physicians and nurses who were taught very different things about the developmental processes for those timeframes for the brains of children when they were in medical school now have the new science as their context for delivering care and can act accordingly.
We now have a growing awareness on the part of our caregivers that one of the very best gifts they can possibly give to their tiny patients and to their families is to encourage the family to have those direct interactions with their child and to make those interactions in those first weeks, months and years a priority for their lives.
Parents who are not told that information and who do not know about that extremely useful and life changing gifts they can be giving their child in those weeks and months and years should be very legitimately angry about not having that information shared with them by their communities and by their caregivers at the point when it could have added the most value and the most benefit for their children.
Remarkable work done by Dr. Beatrice Beebe and her researchers at Columbia University have shown us that we can predict with a very high level of accuracy at one hundred days old which children will be in trouble at age three and five for learning and interaction abilities — and the Columbia team also showed us that we can do interventions for the children who are in the most problematic situation at one hundred days and we can still change the future for the better for all of those children.
We need all children to have adults interacting with them, talking with them in responsive ways, and giving the children the kinds of direct communication links that strengthen brains. We also need all children to get access to books and to have adult interactions that include basic counting and calculation opportunities if we want all children to be successful in their schools and then in their lives for both reading and mathematics skills.
This set of issues has some interesting challenges at an economic level for us as a country as well. Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman at the University of Chicago has done some extremely important research in that area.
Katherine B. Stevens at the American Enterprise Institute has done some very important current research into those issues of economic consequences of not providing that brain strengthening for children in those timeframes that support what Dr. Heckman predicted. The economic challenges that will result for us as a country from having large numbers of people going into our work force who have low reading scores and even lower numerical scores are not hard to figure out and we need to build them into our thinking on these issues.
We are on a path to have increasing numbers of people who will drop out of school and whose future employment levels and opportunities will not be good. When we will need to succeed as a nation in competitive world markets in the future based on the capabilities of our work force, that set of trends and facts will make future work force strength for us as a country problematic at multiple levels.
That is not the best possible future for us as a country.
We should not allow that future to happen at any of those levels.
We need to help every child to keep that future from being the one we face — and we should start now to help every child because children are being born as you read these words and our future population and work force is starting down the trail they will be on for life today. Right now.
This piece is being written to ask you personally to help make a different future happen.
We need a future when all children are learning ready and when our schools are full of graduates who will fill our jobs and make us strong and competitive as a nation.
To do that, we should set some goals for ourselves.
We Need the Eighty-Twenty Maternal Awareness Campaign to Succeed
We should set up a public health campaign for America that calls for strengthening the brain of every child — and we should make a first step in that campaign an awareness program that will have every family and every mother in America understand these issues and help us achieve those goals.
As part of that first step, we should create an Eighty-Twenty campaign for America and we should all become a conscious part of that Eighty-Twenty movement and campaign.
Eighty-Twenty means that we will set a public health goal of having 80 percent of the women who give birth in this country in the year 2020 knowing that they can strengthen the brain of their child by exercising the brain of their child.
One study of Medicaid families had that awareness level about the positive impact of exercise on strengthening brains at less than 10 percent. We need to turn that number over and we need to have almost everyone knowing that we can exercise a child’s brain and strengthen the brain.
We need everyone who cares about kids to help.
To succeed in that goal, we need the people who are reading these words right now to help by sharing this information and by starting to share it right now.
We need you, personally, to teach this information to someone relevant. You can figure out who that person is and why they are relevant and then make them part of our new national awareness culture of awareness about helping each child.
We need all of us to help this country achieve that goal of having 80 percent of all new mothers knowing they can exercise their child’s brain happen by making the personal commitment to share and teach that information in some way that can help change the future for at least one child.
It can be easy to do.
Simply pass this piece and this website link on to a family with a young child.
Teach this information to an educator and teach it to a caregiver and teach it to people who are baby sitters and caretakers for young children.
Use your credibility with people who matter to kids to know about this science and these opportunities.
Share This Information With Your Social Media Links
We need to use social media in a wide range of ways to share this information with every family in America if we want all parents and all families to know that they can strengthen their child’s brain in the first weeks, months and years by exercising the brain. You can personally make that sharing happen by putting this information on the social media that is part of your life.
It could be very beneficial if you could possibly share this information with your friends and your links and suggest to them that they might want to share it with their friends and links — particularly those with small children.
Share it with your employers and your employees and with any leaders in your life who have an influence on any group setting.
We need leaders who share this information with the people they lead and we need caregivers of all kinds who share it with their patients and their families.
Build a sense of comfort in your own mind about how important these issues are — and then figure out as many ways as you can to have that information being used by someone who should use it.
We Need Surround Sound and Trusted Messengers to Save Children
We need our collective strategy to achieve those kid support goals of having 80 percent of mothers understanding that they can strengthen their kid’s brain by 2020 by exercising the brain to have two key strategic components and parts:
It would be wonderful if you, as a person who has read this piece and who understands the issues, to participate in this agenda on both parts of that strategy.
1) Help create Surround Sound in multiple ways that make sense to you.
2) Be a Trusted Messenger yourself to as many people as possible.
Surround Sound can be a fun thing to be part of.
Be creative. Be innovative. Be thorough.
Figure out who you can tell this information to and try to get this science and this request to people who will get it to other people who will, in turn, get it to the family and to the Mom and Dad for at least one child.
Be a Trusted Messenger with the people and organizations and relationships where you can expand the support system by providing and guiding support.
If we all communicate this information and if it gets to the right people, it will transform how we help our children in extremely important ways.
Just sharing it once can transform a life.
The magic and the wonderful thing about this process and approach is that if we can somehow get this information to one new Mom, we have the ability to actually change the life of that Mom’s child for the better.
The beauty of this knowledge about brain development and exercising the brain is that it changes lives one brain at a time.
You Can Share This Information and Change a Life
Sharing that information one time can trigger a miracle in a child’s life.
If you personally communicate this information to one parent or to one family who did not know they could exercise the brain of their child and strengthen the brain, and if they then use it to exercise their baby’s brain — you, personally, have just changed a life and you have changed that life hugely for the better.
How many things can you do today that can have that kind of massive beneficial and positive impact on a life?
This is a good thing to do and this is good time to do it.
Children are being born this very second. A child whose family does not have this information has a high likelihood of not getting that exercise and not being learning ready when they get to school.
If the child is not learning ready, they are far more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, be in poor health, and go to jail.
You could change that life trajectory in a very positive way by sharing this information with a family or parent.
Send us stories about getting this message out.
We will set up a Facebook page for sharing and connecting information about teaching this information to your family, friends and communities.
We want to hear how you used this information to help a family or a kid or a community change a life.
Welcome to the Save All Kids Eighty-Twenty Initiative and Movement
Saving one child is a miracle and a blessing.
Blessings are special and blessings are clearly a good thing to have happen.
It is good to receive a blessing and it is even better to be part of helping someone be blessed.
Let’s save some kids and let’s create a future where we all prosper and where we all are safe because our children are stepping up to do what we need them to do for our safety and our prosperity.
As one economist said very recently at a California conference on brain development for kids: “We are all dependent on the assets we have built into our houses for our retirement, and we will not have anyone who will have the money needed to buy our homes if none of the kids who are going into high school now can read well enough to get a job when they graduate.”
That was a high impact statement — and the numbers he showed in his talk were grim about current learning levels for future buyers of homes.
The path we need to safety and prosperity is not the path we are on now. Those learning gaps in our schools are grim — and they will create a very negative, troubled, and even damaged future for us as a country if we do not understand how serious those issues are and work together now to steer us down a much better path.
Let’s each start down that path by helping one child to a better future.
Let’s help change a life now because we know how to do it, and let’s figure out ways to help kids from every group get the start we need everyone to get to have the right lives.
The new brain science is wonderful.
We would be living in a very different world today at many important levels if we had known this information and understood these processes three decades ago and used this information then to help children.
Let’s live in a different world tomorrow because we know this science now and actually make the right trajectory happen today for the children who will benefit when we do exactly that.
"Brain Architecture." Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/.
Halvorson, George C. "The Art of InterGroup Peace: Chapter Eleven." The Institute for InterGroup Understanding. https://www.intergroupinstitute.org. https://www.intergroupinstitute.org/userfiles/books/chapters/95/The-Art-of-InterGroup-PeaceChapter-Eleven.pdf
Halvorson, George C. "Not Teaching Parents About Early Brain Development Is A Massive and Damaging Public Health Failure." The Huffington Post. September 23, 2016. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-halvorson/not-teaching-parents-abou_b_8186016.html.
Halvorson, George C. "Learning Gaps In Schools Can't Be Ended By Schools." The Huffington Post. September 16, 2016. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-halvorson/learning-gaps-in-schools_b_8147260.html.
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"Tips for Grandparents!" Three Key Years. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://threekeyyears.org/parent-toolkit/tips-for-grandparents/.
"Mayo Clinic Grand Rounds Talk About Saving Kids." Institute for InterGroup Understanding. December 08, 2016. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.intergroupinstitute.org/blog/mayo-clinic-grand-rounds-talk-about-saving-kids/.
"Dr. Beebe’s New Book Illustrates The Importance of Helping Kids In The First Months of Life." Institute for InterGroup Understanding. May 01, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.intergroupinstitute.org/blog/dr-beatrice-beebes-new-book-illustrates-why-we-need-to-help-kids-in-the-first-months-of-life/.
Harvard Center. "1. Experiences Build Brain Architecture." YouTube. September 29, 2011. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNNsN9IJkws.
"Meet the Birds!" First 5 California. Accessed April 09, 2018. http://www.first5california.com/.
Halvorson, George C. "Chapter 22 (Endnotes)." In Three Key Years. https://www.intergroupinstitute.org/userfiles/books/chapters/22/Footnotes-Three-Key-Years.pdf
Stevens, Katharine B. "What Does Early Childhood Have to Do with America’s Workforce Problem? A Lot, Actually." AEI. http://www.aei.org/publication/what-does-early-childhood-have-to-do-with-americas-workforce-problem-a-lot-actually/
"Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University." Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/.
Tucker, Jill. "California Releases Annual Test Scores - Stagnant Results, Persistent Gaps." SFGate. September 28, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.sfgate.com/education/article/California-releases-annual-test-scores-12232610.php.
"InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development." Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-science-of-ecd/.
Klass, Perri. "Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior and Attention." The New York Times. April 16, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/well/family/reading-aloud-to-young-children-has-benefits-for-behavior-and-attention.html.