A Parent's Attention is Greatest Gift to Child

A little more than a year ago, Dr. Meg West, a member of our board at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum suggested I take a look at an exhibit at The Urban Child Institute about the development of a child's brain. On Tuesday a user-friendly, highly interactive version of a portion of that exhibit will debut at the Pink Palace.

It is appropriate that this will occur while our museum is hosting the Enchanted Forest and Festival of Trees. We often say these holiday times should be for the children. What better gift for a child than his or her parents' loving attention? This exhibit is a scientific approach to what that means.

The exhibit delves into the science of parenting. It focuses on the importance of touching, talking, reading and playing during early childhood. It tells the sad, other side of parent-child interaction, too — the damage that early stress can do to a child's vision, hearing, language, and social and emotional development.

The part of the exhibit we will be hosting at the Pink Palace through the end of February features a touch-screen brain map. It will educate visitors about how different actions and interactions affect specific regions of a child's brain.

This exhibit may give the line to that [sic] parents' witticism that kids don't come with instruction manuals. You may not get a manual, but there is a body of knowledge, and using it well makes a difference.

One of the chief insights is simply the importance of interactivity — the back and forth between the parent and child that sets the pattern for good social adjustment.

Through spending intentional time and energy during the first three critical years of life, parents and caregivers provide their young children with essential experiences that set a stable foundation for future health, social and emotional well-being and academic achievement.

One 2011 study indicates that parenting behavior explains about 40 percent of income-related gaps in cognitive outcomes for children at age 4. Understanding what a delicate and marvelous mechanism a child's brain is will surely lead many parents to consider their interactions with their children more carefully.

The brain map is just the first of six parts of the full exhibit The Urban Child Institute plans. The Pink Palace has been working with the Institute since the beginning of this project and we plan to continue to do so. Over time, these parts of the exhibit will become a group of mobile modules that can be placed in a variety of locations around our community.

We've used a tag line "Lively Learning of All" at the Pink Palace Family of Museums for a number of years now. The goal of our partnership with The Urban Child Institute is ensuring that we equip our children to be lively learners by providing parents and caregivers with information on how best to support their baby's brain development. Infants don't visit the Pink Palace, Lichterman Nature Center, the Mallory-Neely or Magevney houses or Coon Creek Science Center on their own. But time passes quickly and when they do come we want them to be prepared to learn. Our goal is to turn them on to the whole world of science, technology and history. Successful parenting just makes that easier for us.

When you visit "the Pink" this holiday season, make a point to look for this exhibit. A parent's attention is a great gift for a child. A healthy child ready to explore the world, is a great gift for our community.

Steve Pike is director of museums for the Pink Palace Family of Museums in Memphis.

This article was originally published by The Commercial Appeal.