Each Of Us Must Be A Vocal Advocate For Young Memphians

We live in a country with long-term challenges but a short-term attention span.

It's what makes our work at The Urban Child Institute so challenging and makes us more determined to make a difference in the lives of the youngest Memphians.

We only need three years - the first three - to make sure every child has his best chance for optimal brain development, and because of it, his optimal future. Today, too many of our young children face dead ends, often because strong foundations were not laid in the years before their third birthday.

It's in those first 36 months, supported by good prenatal care by the mother, that the baby's brain is wired to learn: the brain is twice as active as an adult's and is growing to 80 percent of its adult size. Whether a baby lives in a nurturing, supportive environment or in highly stressful and chaotic circumstances goes a long way in determining if a brain is ready to learn, advance through school, graduate, and be ready for positive choices in life.

We often say here that parents are the first teachers and homes are the first classrooms. Because it is so, it proves that the best things in life are free.  When it comes to our babies and toddlers, it costs nothing to do the things in the first three years of children's lives that give them their best start for the future.

There are four "rules" that can simplify things for every parent: Touch, Talk, Read, Play. They are simple but anything but simplistic, because these four actions help set babies and toddlers on a path to lifetime learning that is the key to future success.

In a city where just under 40% of all children live in poverty, there can be no higher priority for us than to make sure that every child has a fair start. One thing we can do is to increase opportunities for our children by expanding Early Head Start, Memphis City Schools' Pre-Kindergarten program, and similar early education programs. Children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to be successful in the classroom; however, now, for every 1 child in these early childhood programs, 31 who are eligible are not.

In a sound-bite world, it's incumbent on each of us to be a vocal advocate for these young Memphians. That's why we hope you will help us cut through the information glut and stay focused on what matters: our children. To do this, we should support parents in giving their children opportunities to read books, play in imaginative ways, and to learn from teachers in early education classes.

These kinds of intervention programs are the smartest investments we can make.

These are our perceptions at The Urban Child Institute.