Data Book 2013 Highlights Simple Solutions

For the last 7 years, the Urban Child Institute (UCI) has compiled a multitude of data on children and the conditions affecting them in Memphis and Shelby County. This thorough collection of statistics, charts and information is known as the Data Book — a book that tells you everything you want to know and a lot of things you don't — like how 40% of children born in Memphis last year were born into poverty. That's a staggering number. What's equally staggering is the realization that almost all of these children will stay in poverty and eventually welcome their own baby into that same level of poverty. In Memphis and Shelby County, poverty is often passed on from one generation to the next.

This is not good news for Memphis and Shelby County. Luckily, the 2013 Data Book also has some good news. Something that should make you hopeful for those 40% and for everyone in Memphis and Shelby County who want to see our city and county ride out the tough times and get to the business of being a better place.

UCI has found an answer to help steer the young children of Memphis and Shelby County in the right direction. What may surprise you the most is that this answer is simple. It's Touch, Talk, Read, Play. Four simple habits that all parents and caregivers can develop to help children become more likely to escape those cycles of poverty. There are no costs or classes necessary, only a desire to make a change for the better.

All it requires is a little time each day. These four simple things can change the future of Memphis and Shelby County. With Touch, Talk, Read, Play as a guide, any new parent — even an unwed teenager living in poverty — can help to improve the odds that one less child will face the lifelong implications of living in poverty.

Touch, Talk, Read, Play is easy, and all parents and caregivers can do it. The touch can be as simple as holding a baby. It stimulates the baby's brain, sending flashing green lights to the brain to keep growing. Talking to a baby, whether to explain what you're making for lunch or what book you want to read aloud later helps that tiny little brain start to understand that spoken words mean something. It shows a baby's brain that certain sounds happen in certain rhythms, and it teaches that little brain to expect more in future conversations.

Reading captures a child's attention, and playing introduces children to the idea of interaction with others. All of these actions stimulate that growing brain, encouraging it to make more connections and crave more stimulation. Making those connections is crucial to learning. The great news is that almost every parent can do all four of these things.

Touch, Talk, Read, Play. It's a simple answer to a complex situation. And a much better habit to pass on to children than a lifetime in poverty.