A growing body of brain and social-science research confirms the critical importance of nurturing the cognitive development of very young children, beginning in infancy.
Consensus is also growing about the role that fostering social-emotional development plays in children’s long-term academic achievement and determining their life trajectories.
Not all children have access to nurturing early educative experiences that literally help to grow the brain. Disparities between low-income and middle/upper-income neighborhoods are stark. One research study estimated that each child in a middle-income neighborhood had access to 13 books, while in poor neighborhoods the ratio was one book per 300 children.
The US Department of Education estimated that 61 percent of low-income families have no children’s books at all in their homes.
Another study found that on average, middle-class children are exposed to up to 1,700 hours of one-to-one picture book reading, in contrast with poor children who have only 25 hours.
However, the presence of books can boost a child’s school achievement and create a culture of reading and have lasting effects throughout the school years.
Research shows that when children start kindergarten behind grade level, they tend to stay behind; about 75 percent never catch up. Their chances of finishing high school are diminished, and their prospects for attending college are almost nonexistent.
So parents must be their child’s first teacher, and one of the most pleasurable—and effective—ways to achieve this is through daily reading and conversation around storybooks that broaden horizons and spark the imagination and curiosity.
The good news is that even parents who weren’t academically nurtured themselves can give their children a rich experience with language and early literacy activities through affirmative social interactions if they receive high-quality guidance and support.