Aug 28, 2014VTDigger.org
Robyn Freedner-Maguire

Our beautiful Vermont summer is winding down and parents are turning their attention to stocking backpacks and lunchboxes to get their kids ready for school. But is this really enough?

Our model of public education is based on a K-12 system, but in actuality, a child’s future success is shaped much earlier than their kindergarten years. We now know that 80 percent of a child’s brain develops before the age of 3 — 90 percent by age 5. It is during these first few years of life that a child’s brain is rapidly creating the connections — 700 new neural connections every second — that will build the foundation for his or her future learning and development (cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally).

So how do these neural connections form? What determines whether these connections will be strong or weak? Every interaction and experience affects a child’s growing brain — for good or for bad.

Strong connections build a firm foundation for life and come from a child having caring, stable and emotionally secure relationships in their life; positive and healthy interactions and experiences; proper nutrition; and, safe, nurturing environments.

When a child comes from a chronically stressful environment and is subject to abuse or neglect, the brain’s development can be disrupted, increasing the chances of a poor outcome. This is often referred to as “toxic stress.”

Positive, supportive environments where mom, dad or caregiver regularly interacts with baby help build strong connections in the brain. For example, when baby gurgles or coos, mom or dad responds. Connection! When baby smiles or blows a raspberry, someone responds. These serve-and-return interactions are so important for a child’s developing brain.

Strong connections build a firm foundation for life and come from a child having caring, stable and emotionally secure relationships in their life; positive and healthy interactions and experiences; proper nutrition; and, safe, nurturing environments.

We know from the Vermont Agency of Education that 40 to 50 percent of our children are not prepared for kindergarten when they arrive. Thirty-two percent of our third-graders are reading below grade level. And most of our children are born into a household with all parents in the workforce — which means they are spending a large part of their days in someone else’s care.

Learning and the hard work of brain building starts well before any school bell rings. We simply can’t afford to wait until our children enter kindergarten to get them ready for school. Learn more about the importance of the early years at www.letsgrowkids.org.

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