By Tarrin McGhee
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
It's the first day of kindergarten – is your child ready to learn?
That's the question The Urban Child Institute is aiming to help parents address with the release of their new "Kindergarten Readiness Begins at Birth" handbook.
In it, the organization summarizes best practices to promote optimal brain development during early childhood, and outlines ways parents can work to ensure their child develops basic mental, emotional, and social skills needed to succeed in school.
Starting at birth, the ability to process and respond to information is cultivated as a baby becomes more aware of her surroundings and interacts with her environment.
For parents with newborn babies, the first day of school may seem like a long way off, but according to The Urban Child Institute, preparation for this long-awaited moment should begin as soon as possible.
To succeed in school, a child must first establish a solid foundation for learning.
And during the earliest years of life – before a child steps foot in the classroom – every single thing that she hears, witnesses, and experiences shapes her foundation.
A strong foundation decreases probability that developmental and learning challenges will arise later in life, and increases the likelihood for positive academic and behavioral outcomes.
Between conception and age three, the human brain grows to reach 80 percent of its adult size. Throughout infancy and toddler stages, milestone accomplishments like sitting up, laughing out loud, crawling, walking, and talking are early indicators that the brain is developing at an optimal rate.
The Urban Child Institute recommends that parents engage in activities with their children that encourage exploration, introduce new experiences, and offer positive reinforcement and encouragement to promote steady progress.
In the early stages of brain development, key aspects of school readiness such as language, thinking skills, self-control and self-confidence are being determined.
Babies who are raised in a loving, supportive, and nurturing environment will have a greater chance of sharpening these skills and passing kindergarten with flying colors.
So how can you tell if your child is on the right track?
Early childhood development experts and kindergarten teachers suggest that a new kindergartener should:
Know his first and last name and his parent's first and last name.
Recognize letters (both lowercase and uppercase) and numbers (up to 10).
• Know basic colors and shapes.
• Use the bathroom independently.
• Dress and undress, and wash hands.
• Solve problems without hitting, biting, or yelling.
• Follow instructions from teachers and parents.
• Communicate wants and needs (like hunger, pain, happiness) through words.
• Be able to be apart from his parents during the school day.
• Sit quietly for short periods of time.
• Show curiosity and enthusiasm for activities like story or art time.
According to national statistics released last year by The Urban Child Institute, over one third of children begin school unprepared.
In Memphis and Shelby County, the need to promote kindergarten readiness is reflected in low achievement, graduation and college readiness and attainment rates that currently exist throughout the community.
Early brain development has a tremendous impact on future academic achievement, and research suggests that school readiness is based on skills and experiences that children acquire in their first three years of life.
The Urban Child Institute's Kindergarten Readiness Begins at Birth handbook serves as a great starting point for new and expecting parents to chart the course for success.
(The New Tri-State Defender has 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.)