Since is the Brain Bag project launched this spring, some 2,600 parents have received the early literacy gift bags through one of the three major birthing hospitals in Escambia County.
A grant that Studer Community Institute earned from IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area launched the project. Baptist and West Florida hospitals began handing out the bags in April; Sacred Heart began handing them out in May.
SCI launched the Brain Bags to be one of many steps in the process of improving the kindergarten readiness rate of children in Escambia County. The most recently available data from the Florida Office of Early Learning indicates that 66 percent of kindergartners are ready for school on the first day.
Kindergarten readiness is an important academic milestone. Research indicates that children who have the foundational language skills to be ready to learn in kindergarten are more likely to be better readers.
What builds those basic pre-reading skills?
Research from the University of Kansas and other institutions show it is exposure to language in the first three years of life. The Brain Bags are meant to be a toolkit for parents — and a way to talk about the important role that parent talk and interaction plays in building the wiring of a child’s brain before the age of 4.
Every week, I touch base with the nursing staffs at those hospitals to see how things are going, answer questions and help troubleshoot where needed. I wanted to share a bit of the feedback they’ve given be over the months.
At West Florida Hospital, nurses there said patients are responding well to the Brain Bags.
Nurses there are handing the bags out before their patients leave the hospital. The bags are allowing Jeannie Connolly and her nurses to talk with their patients about the importance of words, reading and interaction with their children in a low-key, supportive way.
The patients are reacting positively; when asked how helpful the Brain Bag was in increasing what they know about the power of parent talk in brain development, West Florida moms rate the Brain Bag a 9.65 out of 10. The sessions take between 20-30 minutes, Connolly says.
“The patients love it,” said Brandy Edwards, assistant nurse manager for West Florida’s Family Birthplace. “They are really responding to the teaching and they all say how nice it is.”
Connolly, who teaches the prenatal classes at West Florida’s Family Birthplace, is using the teaching points in those classes, too. She is eager to bring pediatricians onboard as well to follow up at well-baby visits to make sure mothers keep hearing the message.
West Florida delivers about 50 babies every month. They are on track for about 600 births for 2017.
Next time, I’ll share feedback from Baptist and Sacred Heart nursing staffs.