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‘Touch, Talk, Read, Play’


Three years ago, Neighborhood Christian Centers partnered with The Urban Child Institute to strengthen our city’s understanding of the vital brain development that happens in children from birth to age five. Special to the Tri-State Defender

Most people instinctively understand that creating a safe, nurturing environment for babies and young children is crucial to them becoming well-adjusted, productive adults.   

 The Urban Child Institute hosts monthly learning events to provide community members with opportunities to learn about the latest research and best practices in early childhood brain development. This father and child attended a recent event. (Courtesy photo)

What might come as a surprise is that a baby’s brain does 80 percent of its growing by its third birthday. Like a sponge, the baby’s brain is soaking up anything it can about the new world it’s just been born into. In this period before a child enters a school classroom, it falls especially on the child’s parents to create this environment.  

“Parents are a child’s first teachers and the home is the first classroom,” said Katie Spurlock of The Urban Child Institute. “They have an enormous responsibility for their children’s development, because a child relies on his parents to teach him language skills, coach him in appropriate behavior, and serve as role models for future relationships.”

Three years ago, Neighborhood Christian Centers (NCC) partnered with The Urban Child Institute to strengthen our city’s understanding of the vital brain development that happens in children from birth to age five. Under the umbrella of NCC’s Operation Smart Child, the two organizations developed the “Touch, Talk, Read, Play” program, which is now undergoing its first test phases.

 Ephie Johnson

“The potential for academically sharp and capable people to rise up from our under resourced communities is within our reach,” said Ephie Johnson, president and CEO of NCC.

“When the parent or caregiver practices certain basic parenting skills and takes personal responsibility for themselves and their children, our communities will reap the benefits.”  

She sees the “Touch, Talk, Read, Play” program as an investment in the city’s future, a way to correct “bad behaviors” that have built up over generations.  

“With second, third, fourth generation young parents and single parents, rituals and traditions have been lost,” she said.  

Instinctive parenting skills that were once passed on to each successive generation have become diluted in the busy, modern world, she said.  

The “Touch, Talk, Read, Play” program focuses on the common, everyday interactions parents and caregivers have with their young children in order to create a nurturing environment that prepares babies to learn once they enter school.  

These young brains are twice as active as adult brains, so hungry for input and thirsty to learn that these early experiences have greater impact on their brain development.

 “Babies’ brains are wired to learn,” said Spurlock.  

The new program encourages parents to touch, talk, read and play with their children with purpose and care to maximize these moments of loving learning.  

Suggestions for parents are to:

Offer laps to sit in and hands to hold, hugs for comfort and tucking-in kisses at night.

Make trips to run errands educational experiences by engaging children with talk, describing the sights they drive past in the car, or naming the vegetables as they browse the grocery store.  

Reading to children is known to be great, but it doesn’t always have to come in the form of story time with a picture book. Look around for words in our busy modern world and you’ll see them everywhere, and kids see them just like us.  

Playing with young children is goofy fun, but as synapses pop to life in their expanding brains, young children are doing as much learning as they are laughing.  

“Many child caregivers use these concepts with children, and many children have parents that understand this,” said Johnson. “But still behavior repeats itself. Kids keep having kids.”  

She said that without exposure to once-common knowledge and habits, they get lost.

“Some parents are operating without thinking of the children’s perspective, and I’m concerned it’s getting progressively worse,” she said.    

Research shows that a child’s achievement, behavior and adjustment are related directly to the quality of parenting received in the earliest years of life.  Johnson sees “Touch, Talk, Read, Play” as a way to reintroduce good habits to people who lack them simply by lack of exposure.  

“I feel this is our way to celebrate the people of Memphis,” said Johnson.

“We can do this. We can raise our children to be stronger, healthier citizens. We’re willing to do everything it takes to get Memphis to a better place.”

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