Q & A with Genevieve Garrett of Mississippi Thrive
Q: Why is early brain development so important?
A: Many think brain development doesn’t really matter until children can form memories, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While the brain can continue to develop into adulthood, it is the first five years of life when the most rapid development occurs. In fact, by the age of 5, more than 90 percent of our brains have developed. A strong foundation is essential for optimal brain development and future learning. This is also why early childhood behavioral and developmental screenings are so important.
Q: How can caregivers support early brain development?
A: Babies are born with brains that are ready to learn. Caregivers have the power to support the development of a strong foundation through providing opportunities to play and explore. Activities as simple as talking, reading, and playing with your baby during the day boosts brain development. Young babies may not be able to sit up and turn pages of a storybook, but reading to them boosts their neurological development.
It is never too early to start reading aloud to you baby. I recommend that parents start incorporating reading into their daily routine at birth! When parents and caregivers read to babies, they are giving them language skills, increasing their vocabularies and teaching them how to interact with others.
Q: What other benefits come from your child hearing your voice?
A: Talking, reading, singing and playing with your baby builds your relationship as well as your baby’s brain power. Cuddling while reading helps your baby feel warm and connected to you. Your baby has been hearing your voice in utero, so the sound of it is comforting and familiar.
Q: How does early development relate to academic success later in life?
A: Success in the classroom really does start in the cradle. Singing, reading and talking to your baby during the day stimulate vocabulary and language skills. Taking turns during interactions teaches your child about interacting with others. Asking questions throughout the day helps your child’s creativity blossom. Each day, these activities build your baby’s educational foundations, preparing them for the day they begin school.
Q: What resources are there for parents?
A: Parents already have what it takes to help their babies’ brains grow, and babies are born ready to learn!
Tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available at the CDC website, cdc.gov, and through Mississippi Thrive!, a partnership between the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Mississippi State University that’s funded by the federal Health Resources Services Administration.
The free app Vroom (vroom.org) offers tips that promote parent-child relationships and interaction and development of life skills.
Parents don’t have to spend money to boost their children’s brain power. Just by interacting, reading, singing and chatting with children, you are helping them have the best start possible.
Genevieve Garrett is a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral therapist at UMMC’s Center for Advancement of Youth and the Mississippi Thrive! program. She received Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees from New Mexico State University and is passionate about helping Mississippi’s children reach their full potential.