One of the key areas of our strategic plan is developing strategies for supporting family development. If we want our children to have the best foundation from which to thrive we must make sure their families have the tools they need to be successful. Parents are the first and most important teacher to children about how the world works, and we want those lessons support positive development. One tool that offers a framework for communities to engaged in family development is The Basics. Created by the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, it outlines five simple ways to help our youngest children grow to be happy and smart.
The first basic is “Maximize Love, manage Stress”. Babies and toddlers who experience a safe, loving and predictable environment are more likely to thrive. Physical touch is an important part of that, so touching, kissing and cuddling your baby is key. Babies cannot be spoiled! Respond to their cues. Part of this strategy involves parents taking care of themselves.
The second basic is “Talk, Sing, and Point”. Babies begin to learn language immediately so narrating the world in a variety of ways helps that process. Make eye contact and respond to their sounds and eventually their words. As they get older ask questions and expand on what is being noticed by adding descriptions or other observations.
The third basic is “Count, Group, and Compare”. Our brains are wired for math when we are born, and it is not too early to begin talking about numbers, shapes, patterns and comparisons. “One apple is bigger than the other” and “There are 5 crackers on the plate” are easy ways to build in math. Beats and rhythms are another way to support this development, so try clapping and tapping when you sing.
The fourth basic is “Explore through movement and play”. Babies learn through physical interactions with the world around them. Notice what they look at or seem interested in and support their exploration of those objects or areas. As they get older going on walks, playing games, making art and dramatic play are great ways to help them explore.
The fifth basic is “Read and discuss stories”. Reading is another primary way babies and toddlers learn language. Infants can be engaged with pointing at pictures and using an expressive voice to describe the book, while toddlers can start to look at the words and follow a story. Asking questions like ‘what do you think will happen next?” or “why is the girl happy?” extends the learning.
Notice how each of the Basics can also reinforce each other. For instance, reading books together is a great opportunity to snuggle (maximize love), and singing counting songs reinforces math concepts. Parenting is one of the most challenging and meaningful activities we do, and a straightforward, simple framework like The Basics gives easy-to-use, accessible tools for the journey. These strategies can be used no matter where you live, how much money you have, or what you do for work, and they can make a world of difference.
Chloe Learey is the executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro. She serves on the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council, a governor-appointed body that advises the Administration and Legislature on early childhood care, health and education systems. The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce recently named her Entrepreneur of the Year.