Building a Child’s Brain: A Parent’s Privilege

Parents are the most important and enduring influence in the lives of children. Excellent parenting does not demand perfection—but does require loving involvement and sensitive interaction, responsive to the unique nature of each child. Researchers in neuroscience now realize “brains are not born, but built.” Unlike most other organs, the brain is not complete at birth! Although the brain cells are all in place, the “wiring” of the brain is not fully formed, but emerges over time through stimulation in the context of nurturing relationships, with the most rapid explosion in synaptic connections between cells occurring in the first few years of life. This period builds either a sturdy or a weak foundation for all learning that follows.

Scientists stress several things: (1) Both nature and nurture are involved in brain development. (2) The care a child receives in the early years has a lasting impact on development and the ability to learn and manage emotions. (3) Though
the brain is adaptable, there are sensitive times for optimal development.
(4) Negative experiences or the lack of stimulation may have lasting consequences.

Why is this important for parents and caregivers to know? Parents are the very first teachers a child has—and, in fact, are co-architects of the brain. The loving interaction between a young child and the parent builds on and expands nature’s basic foundation. Scientists describe this interaction as a “serve and return” action: the child naturally reaches out to the parent in some way, and adults respond with words or gestures. This back and forth exchange strengthens the architecture of the brain, affirms the child’s sense of worth, and enhances social development. With repetition and stimulation, these connections are not only dramatically increased, but become permanent. Without appropriate stimulation the child will fail to achieve full potential.

The foundation for success in school and life begins at or before birth, with parents enjoying the privilege of being the very first teachers for their child, followed by additional partners in the educational process.

We have always known parents are important—science simply confirms and gives practical definition to their impact. So what is a loving parent to do? Fortunately, this is not rocket science—here are some tips:

  • Give consistent, loving care, with gentle, affectionate touch, promoting both physical and brain development.
  • Engage in language with your child from the moment of birth, using words, songs, books and rhymes. Watch for and respond to cues from your child, practicing “serve and return” interaction. Repeat whatever your child says, adding additional words. Note: passively watching TV does not have the same impact!
  • Look for teachable moments all through the day, using ordinary actions as “windows for learning.” Name items, identify colors, count, describe things outdoors and concepts such as bigger/smaller, hot/cold.
  • Introduce children to music, which develops the areas of the brain required for math and spatial reasoning.
  • Mirror the behavior you want to see in your child: a soft voice, patience in solving problems, ways to handle a variety of emotions. A child’s healthy attachment to the parent provides the necessary foundation for trust, independence, and effective relationships with others later in life.

 

Improving Literacy Through Crafts

             When I started coordinating Reading Hour, I had no idea what to expect from the children. I never really gave thought to the attention span of a three or four year old, or their level of comprehension when reading. What I really didn’t understand is that reading hour has the potential to make a child either like or dislike reading, depending upon their experience. After the first few weeks of struggling to maintain enthusiasm and attention from the children participating in the program, I decided to do some research on child literacy.  Children that do not have the motivation to read for fun are less likely to actually read, and therefore they are less likely to read throughout their time in elementary school because they do not view it as a fun activity. This dislike and lack of motivation can begin as early as prekindergarten which can in turn affect a child for the next decade of their school career. After discovering this, I decided I needed to alter the program in order to ensure that the children were motivated to participate in reading hour. I started to research different literacy crafts and began incorporating a literacy activity at the end of every reading hour. Each reading hour now has a focus book, along with reading a myriad of books to the children, each volunteer will end their reading hour with the same book. That book will act as the focus book, and immediately after reading that book, the child will do a craft associated with that book. For example, last week we read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?  by Eric Carle. After reading the book, the children all made bear puppets out of brown paper bags with their reading buddy. This enforces the book and reading comprehension, but also engages the children and allows them to associate reading and crafts. This keeps the children interested in reading and in my experience has tremendously improved their comprehension and excitement in reading. Maintaining a child’s excitement about reading is a pivotal part of the Reading Hour program. 

--Taylor Wills

Reading Hour Video

Please enjoy this video about Reading Hour, and consider volunteering with us! Thank you, The Learning Ladder Child Development Center for providing an amazing space to film and adorable children! Thank you, Joelle Shenk and Andrew Mussey for producing the video, and, finally, thank you to our very talented actors!

Songs and Literacy

Katie SimkoThis past fall, I began my year of service with AmeriCorps as a Family Literacy Resource Specialist. Going in, my expectation was that I would get to read to some children and work with some volunteers but I never expected to learn so much from these preschools I work with and children I am in contact with. One particular center I have been working with utilizes songs to designate certain routines and even to calm the children down. I found that so interesting and was baffled at how well it worked so I decided to so some research on why it is so effective.

It is well known that the ability to read is a precursor to success in both school and life for a child. By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Research shows us that rhymes and songs are great tools to develop strong literacy skills and ensure that every child has the skills and tools necessary to be successful. Singing songs throughout the day can make a child more aware of the sounds and repetitions of letters. When these songs are used repetitively day after day, children become aware of patterns and sounds associated with words or phrases and they increase the number of words in their vocabulary. Not only are these songs and rhymes beneficial to the children’s development, many children will identify them as a fun part of their day! The link below has more information and some great ideas for songs to incorporate in to any child’s life! There are songs about all different topics out there, from brushing your teeth to rhyming songs about peter piper and I am having a great time learning some of them and watching them effect the lives of the children I have the privilege to work with!

http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_home.aspx?Artic...

-Katie Simko

NRV to Benefit from Three Grant Proposals

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation was awarded a $17.5 million Preschool Expansion grant which will serve 11 Virginia localities including 2 new VPI+ classrooms in Giles County.

Total Action for Progress has been selected to negotiate for $2.7 million for Early Head Start for the NRV and Greater Roanoke Region with 60 slots in the NRV.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia received a Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth grant for the Southwest Region Star Quality Initiative for $180,000 over 3 years for curriculum and training to help children make healthy choices. 

NRCC's Early Learning Center

New River Community College’s Early Learning Center received a star-quality rating from the Virginia Star Quality Initiative and Smart Beginnings in August, 2014.

The Early Learning Center serves as a lab school for college students in New River Community College’s Early Childhood Education Program. The center provides high-quality educational programming for three to five year old children in the area.

The leaders of the child care center, including Linda Claussen, who served as program director for the ELC from 1978 until 2005, Bonnie Graham, the program head of Human Services and Early Childhood Education, Sherry Townsend, and Kayla Smith, ELC lead teachers, celebrated their rating in October with Delegates Joseph Yost and Nick Rush. David Moore was honored to participate in the celebration as well. 

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Phil Mun Loves Volunteering with Reading Hour

“Coming into this program, I thought I would be teaching a child to read on a higher level.  But in reality, the child I read to has actually taught me to be more patient with others and how to communicate effectively with children.” –Volunteer, Phil Mun

Liz Singanong Describes Her AmeriCorps Experience

“When this AmeriCorps position fell into my lap, I had no idea where to start. We had our orientations and I met with my centers and to be completely honest, I still didn’t know what in the world I was doing until probably around last month. But I think that was one of the best parts about it. We were given this program that has literally been started from scratch and have been able to watch it grow. I think the most rewarding thing thus far has been to see the program fall into place. Twice a week, I get to watch the partners interact, and each time it’s the best part of my entire week. I’ve watched the kids come out of their shells and their mentors form a bond that keeps them coming back as well. Reading Hour has been such an amazing experience and I’m sad to see this semester already coming to an end but thrilled for what the next one will hold!” –Liz Singanong

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AmeriCorps Grant

Smart Beginnings received an AmeriCorps grant that provides eight 300-hour and two 675-hour volunteers. These volunteers are “Family Literacy Resource Specialists” who are the center coordinators for Reading Hour.

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The Blank Book Project

by Taylor Wills

The children grazed their markers against the thick white sheets, coloring in the pictures that had been stenciled onto the page the night before. “I love to color,” spoke Maycie as she gave her lion the last spark of life with a brown mane.

As the joy carried around the room, you could hear the incessant screaming: “Look at this picture! No, look at mine!”

From the moment the books landed into the classroom to the minute all of our Reading Hour Volunteers departed, having left behind the books to bring home to their families, the children were ecstatic. I would say our Christmas Reading Hour was a complete success.

My elementary school teacher inspired the Blank Book Project, and the idea stuck with me throughout my adolescence. A few months ago, I thought it would be the perfect way to end a successful semester of reading hour.

I had to determine how ten, three and four year olds, were going to be interested in making their own books. Then, appealing to the children was the next goal. I wanted to ensure that all of the children had meaningful experiences creating their books: animals seemed to be the favorite theme of the classroom; therefore, it seemed fitting to invite them into our project.

Using animal stickers, and storylines that explained specific animal habits, I decided to write a book about a zoo. Each page included a specific animal, and something that they do, or eat. The blank spaces around the animals and stencils were used for the children to color and add individuality to each book. 

By the end, all sounds were mute except those of the children sharing their books to each other. 

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