Education

Parent engagement key to building babies brains

Parents in the Thirty Million Words Initiative learn the importance of talking to their babies from birth. Photo credit: TMW.

In the past weeks my focus has been primarily on finding ways to help parents use the power they have — through their words — to build a child’s brain.

Research shows that nearly 85 percent of the brain develops by age 3. The more words a baby hears in that time, the better prepared for school and life that child will be.

The primary purpose of my efforts, as parent outreach coordinator, is to assist parents with children 0 to 3 years old, so they can do their best to ensure that their little ones reach and surpass developmental milestones and are ready when they enter kindergarten.

A critical part of our mission to improve the quality of life for everyone in the Pensacola Metro is getting children ready for kindergarten. To help the children, for the most part, means helping their parents.

By building relationships with parents and families and creating partnerships with agencies, organizations and childcare providers, we want to give parents the training and the tools to aid in building their babies brains, which ultimately builds a life and build a community.

Since state legislation nearly 30 years ago created Florida’s Healthy Start program, its mission has been to reduce infant deaths, decrease number of low birth weight babies, and improve health and development outcomes for all Florida babies. All pregnant women who receive prenatal care in Florida qualify for a Healthy Start screening by their obstetrician.

Healthy Start coordinators help arrange a variety of services as needed to help meet your needs and the goal for having a healthy baby.

Early Head Start invited me to take part in its parent engagement and home visit programs. Program team leaders and social service advocates make periodic home visits with children ages 0 to 3 and pregnant mothers.

Twice monthly those groups of children and mothers meet at A.A. Dixon Early Head Start. While the children are together, playing and socializing, the parents get together to get assistance in parenting skills, job training and other activities to improve and enhance their lives. The goal is to move families toward employment and empowerment through early childhood and adult education, housing and safety assistance and financial management.

Finding the places and space to house parent outreach programs is a must. Through partnerships with groups and organizations we hope to open doors to allow access to facilities.

Community centers like Ebonwood, Wedgewood and Brownsville in the county, as well as city facilities like the Fricker and Cobb centers are places that are conveniently located for parents in areas identified as pockets of poverty.

The critical importance of parental engagement cannot be understated in ensuring a young child will be ready from day one for success in school and in life.

With partnerships and working together with agencies and organizations like Early Head Start, the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County, Escambia County Healthy Start Coalition and the Area Housing Commission — people who have the knowledge and skills to provide responsive interactions — we can help to shape the physical structure of a child’s brain so that he or she will be fully able to learn now in school and in the years to come.