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Deeds that seem small help babies grow into achievers

Touch. Talk. Read. Play. When it comes to a child’s ability to learn, these four little words hold huge weight and significance as the foundation for early brain development. Special to the Tri-State Defender

Touch. Talk. Read. Play.

When it comes to a child’s ability to learn, these four little words hold huge weight and significance as the foundation for early brain development. For babies between the ages 0-3, these fundamental activities are critical to their progression into childhood, with particular implications on future potential to excel in and outside of the classroom.

The Urban Child Institute and Neighborhood Christian Centers have partnered to increase community awareness and knowledge on the importance of engaging in these activities, and the long-term benefits that they will provide for children and families in the Greater Memphis area.

The Touch, Talk, Read, Play (TTRP) concept is embraced by many parents and guardians that recognize the lasting impressions that positive interaction will have on their baby’s life and journey to adulthood. Understanding how the practice affects and contributes to the mental and physical health of a child, encourages these caregivers to be proactive and responsible for ensuring that their little loved ones are steadily advancing.

“Ensuring that my baby is happy, healthy, and developing to her full potential is my first priority,” said Nefertiti Orrin, parent of an eight-month old baby girl named Samira.

“I provide ample and varied opportunities for her to reach those milestones by building in time to read, play games like Peek-A-Boo or Patty Cake, to sing, and simply have conversations.  I keep other ways in my toolbox to nurture her cognitive, language, and physical development like lying on the play-mat to practice scooting and rolling, or narrating my activities if I need a few minutes to fold laundry or put groceries away.”

Despite the demands of her career and other responsibilities, it is apparent that Orrin is fully committed to motherhood.  

The consistent support that she gives to encourage her baby’s progress through simple measures (such as touching, talking, reading and playing) is expected of all parents.  Unfortunately the presence of someone who maintains or reinforces this level of commitment is absent in the lives of many babies and young children, and the long-term effects on their development and academic achievement can be devastating.  

Tamera Malone, a special education teacher at Kirby High Schools believes that it is vitally important to address the need that exists for parents and adults to commit to the process of nurturing the innate learning ability that children possess, starting at birth.

“If not, there is a huge possibility that they will eventually end up in my classroom,” she says. “I work with children that have not just entered special education during their middle or high school years.  Ninety-nine percent of my kids have been in the program since first grade – sadly because many of them were not given the attention, love and guidance needed during an early age to function in school.”

During the earliest period of a child’s life is where the missing links between academic success and failure can often be found.

Across the country, concern about the state of public education is mounting. Parents, teachers, concerned residents and legislators alike are becoming increasingly interested in identifying ways to ensure that current and future students are adequately prepared, able and eager to learn.

The need to invest in children and their education is even more persistent in Memphis where public school students (of whom 92 percent are minority and 83 percent are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals) require a quantum leap in academic achievement. Only 6 percent of Memphis City Schools students who elect to take the ACT (i.e. 3-4 percent of total students) are deemed “college-ready” in all four subject areas.

To our credit, current reform efforts such as the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative were specifically designed to address these breathtaking statistics and most notably, the referendum vote and events surrounding the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools is a reflection of wide-spread community interest and concern for the future of our public schools.

But the reality is that many children, particularly those in the African-American community face learning challenges and disabilities that can be addressed before they enter the classroom – leading to overall increases in student achievement and future progress for the Greater Memphis area.

Implementing a comprehensive approach that includes strategies to lay the groundwork to promote brain development and support early childhood education is essential to proactively address the persistent challenges that plague our communities. Education should be and should remain our top priority as we work to break the cycles of poverty, crime and homelessness.

“If a child enters the first grade a little behind, it’s going to be a real struggle for that student to catch up unless they have a dedicated teacher or adult that intervenes and remains consistent.  For those that don’t and get passed along, their potential is severely limited. By the time they enter high school and can’t read, write or lack social skills, there are few interventions that can bring them up to speed,” said Malone.

The Urban Child Institute believes that by starting with the youngest citizens in our community – our babies – we can all help to truly prepare our students to achieve in school and succeed in life.

“Small things make a big difference,” said Katie Spurlock, Director of Education and Dissemination at The Urban Child Institute.

“Here and everywhere, differences in opinion on the most effective strategies to improve education exist. Touch, Talk, Read, Play is one which research has shown will make a huge impact and everyone can participate.”

(To learn more about TTRP, visit www.theurbanchildinstitute.org.)

(The New Tri-State Defender recently partnered with The Urban Child Institute to make sure every child has the best chance for optimal brain development during the critical first three years of each child’s life. This is one in a series of stories and columns in our campaign.)

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