Back in 2015, Peggie Bosso's kindergarten classroom at Oakcrest Elementary School. Photo credit: Shannon Nickinson
It's the time of year when thanks to the good and generous women of IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area, we at SCI are in the thick of getting our IMPACT Brain Bags together.
SCI was lucky enough to be among the winners of an IMPACT grant for 2016 for the project. It puts together an early literacy kit — a brain development goodie bag, if you will — for new parents to help highlight the importance of reading and language in building their new baby's brain.
It will include: a copy of "P is for Pelican: The ABCs of Pensacola" a children's book by author Anna Theriault; a toy; a Baby Book designed by SCI staff that can be personalized and includes developmental guidelines to look for, tips about how to talk more to your baby, advice on how to choose a childcare center, an at-a-glance guide to what "kindergarten ready" looks like, and more.
It also includes a binder of community resources and shared content to help new parents know where to go at glance for help, advice and guidance locally. It's all designed to be the first of many conversations we hope to help start with new parents about how important it is to talk to their babies.
Those first 1,000 days of a child's life — the time between birth and age 3 ‚ are critical to the physical development of the brain. The wiring of the brain is built then, and the stronger those connections are from the start, the smarter that child will grow up to be.
And what builds those connections? Words.
Research also shows that children from well-off families hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income families and that gap is part of the reason why poor children often struggle when they get to school.
It's called the "achievement gap" — and it often lingers for children beyond kindergarten, impacting their reading and math skills and even their chances of graduating high school on time.
Earlier this year, I heard Tammy Pawloski speak. She is the director of the Center of Excellence for Teaching Children of Poverty at Francis Marion University in South Carolina.
She said that poverty is about more than the absence of money. Sure that's a big part of it, she said, but it's also about the absence of resources.
It's about the absence of sleep, healthy food, access to healthcare, time, relationships, and role models and what those things do to child's ability to cope, manage his emotions, learn, focus and understand the world around him.
These "early extras" that can begin to close the gap for some children include toys, books, even access to quality childcare, and time.
Time and interaction with a parent who talks to you in a loving way, who reads to you, who sees that talking to baby — even before he or she can answer back — is literally wiring that little brain for learning later on.
"If you didn't have the resources, how do you know what opportunity you missed?" she said that day.
That's why the Brain Bags are an important project, not only for the Institute, but also for our community. They are a small step in a long journey, perhaps, but one that needs to start somewhere.
Because fully one-third of our children come to the first day of school without the basic skills they'll need to be ready. And they'll know they are behind. They'll see their classmates and friends who can write their first and last name, answer questions about a story that was just read, who know they shapes and colors and numbers.
And they'll know they are in a race where it seems like other people are halfway to the finish line already.
We can't allow all of that opportunity to go to waste anymore.