Touch, Talk, Read, Play.
These four cornerstones help give young children a strong foundation for developing a bright future. That’s because during the first three years of life, the human brain undergoes astonishing development. These four activities — touching, talking, reading, and playing — can lay the foundation on which a child’s life is built. Early brain development is largely shaped by environment; it is nurturing, supportive parenting that sparks a child’s innate curiosity and desire to learn. This sets them on a path to lifetime learning.
Since 2006, The Urban Child Institute has been a leader in research and advocacy for strong brain development and positive child development in Memphis. Working with the Neighborhood Christian Centers, the institute has distilled research from which have grown these four tenets for positive parenting: Touch, Talk, Read, Play. Here is why each are important.
Touch. One of the first “pathways” developed in the brain involves our five senses, but touch for young children is extremely important. Before an infant’s sense of smell or taste fully develops, the sense of touch dominates his interactions with the world. In the first year of baby’s life, the brain is growing rapidly. Touch and affection have been shown to result in increased weight gains and positive social development. Babies who are regularly cuddled and held are happier, calmer children. As they mature, they are also more likely to have satisfying personal relationships. TIP: Hold and cuddle your baby every day. Play peek-a-boo. Give her a massage. Remember, you can’t spoil your baby with too much love and affection.
Talk. The first three years of life are crucial for language development, because there’s no other time when a child’s brain is growing more rapidly and is more receptive to new information. Frequent conversations with your child helps her practice and improve her vocabulary. Parents are a child’s first teachers, so by talking with your child, you engage her in language lessons which in turn contributes to academic success. TIP: Use activities to talk with your child. Name objects and shapes while preparing breakfast, dressing, or taking a walk.
Read. Long before children enter preschool, parents are shaping their child’s literacy. When a young child is read to, thousands of brain cells respond, strengthening existing connections. Your child benefits even more if you encourage her to ask questions with picture books. These experiences and the literacy they produce are linked to a child’s success in reading, which is the cornerstone of learning. TIP: Sprinkle reading time throughout the day. Keep a book bag in the car for restaurant or appointment times. Incorporate reading as part of your bedtime routine.
Play. Play is critical to child development, because it creates strong brains, healthy bodies, and positive emotional development. Play time stimulates the brain, develops language skills, offers a bonding experience between children and parents, and promotes problem-solving skills, motor skills, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination.
Also, play stimulates creativity, reasoning, and imagination and builds self-esteem and confidence. Best of all, children do not require expensive toys to make the most of their play experiences, but they do need safe places where they can play freely. TIP: Get down on ground level with your child. Play gently, engage them with their toys. Make up stories as you play.
Your child’s first three years are a window of opportunity for you to make sure he or she has the strongest possible foundation for success. It’s as easy as talk, touch, read, and play with your baby.
Katie Midgley is community outreach and public policy associate with the Urban Child Institute in Memphis.
Katie Midgley, Urban Child Institute