Flipping the Switch

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 5/15/2017, 12:28 a.m.
What if boosting a toddler’s brainpower was as easy as turning on a light switch? In fact, “Flip the Switch” ...

The idea for the Boston Basics initiative was born out of a 2011 conference hosted by Dr. Ron Ferguson devoted to discovering what parents need to know to help eliminate skill gaps already evident at age 2. An advisory committee of researchers came up with five “Basics” all parents should practice with their children to support healthy brain development: 1) Maximize Love, Manage Stress; 2) Talk, Sing and Point; 3) Count, Group and Compare; 4) Explore through Movement and Play; and 5) Read and Discuss Stories. The Boston Basics Campaign, launched in January 2016, is a public-private collaboration between leaders from the Black Philanthropy Fund, the Boston Mayor’s Office, the Pediatrics Department at Boston Medical Center, WGBH Broadcasting and the Boston Children’s Museum among many other community leaders. The “basics” are being infused throughout the Boston community – engaging health care providers, places of worship, libraries and museums, barbershops, early childhood centers and schools to ensure parents are saturated with information about how to support their child’s brain development wherever they go. Boston Basics demonstrates the potential for private organizations and government partners to come together in support of young children in a community. The Black Philanthropy Fund was instrumental in investing time and resources to lead the campaign, which is now being expanded to a number of other cities.

Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute, launched the excellent public awareness and action campaign “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing,” which uses books, parent videos, text messaging and social media to share fun and easy ways for parents and caregivers to boost their child’s early brain and vocabulary development. There are now “Talking is Teaching Word Gap” campaigns in dozens of cities across the country.

Just as the latest research shows that investments in quality early childhood programs generate an average annual return of more than 13 percent on every dollar invested, every effort made in boosting young children’s brainpower – including the thousands of simple, fun, and free activities parents and caregivers can weave into everyday life – benefits all of us later on. These important community initiatives are essential but cannot make up for needed public investments in programs that support children’s early development. High-quality child care and other early opportunities are out of reach for too many children and families that need them but are also critical for further strengthening children’s early brain development. Healthy early child brain development is not a partisan issue. Congress should embrace the evidence and make the investments needed today to guarantee every baby has a strong start to ensure a strong America tomorrow.

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.