Growing Understanding of Brain Development is Music to Our Ears

There was a time when brain development was discussed mainly by researchers and neuroscientists, but these days it's a regular topic in newspapers and magazines and is even brought up at public meetings in our community.

As many musicians in Memphis know, becoming an overnight success usually takes years of hard work. It's the same with early childhood brain development. The Urban Child Institute has been working for a decade with partners and community leaders to spread the word about how crucial this issue is to the future of Memphis and the region. Today it is clearer than ever that this message is finding a wide audience.

There was a time when brain development was discussed mainly by researchers and neuroscientists, but these days it's a regular topic in newspapers and magazines and is even brought up at public meetings in our community. It's a message that knows no boundaries: People of all political persuasions, religious beliefs, and ethnic heritages can come together to advocate for every child to benefit from positive experiences in the first three years of life, when the brain is developing at an astonishing rate.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, for example, has put the need for an early childhood focus on the table at the meetings of the Shelby County Transition Planning Commission, the group developing a plan to merge the county and city school districts. He is also strengthening and supporting the important work of the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood and Youth. "Our children are our legacy and if we fail in this area then we have failed to be the community that we should be," said Luttrell, announcing a federal grant to attack youth violence.

Meanwhile, we could not have said it any better than Memphis Mayor A C Wharton did in his 2012 State of the City address: "Today, about one in two Memphis children live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where crime, blight, and economic vulnerability are all too common. These high stress environments put the optimal brain development of our youngest children at risk. In the first three years of a child's life, research has proven that the brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size; however, in those days, less than three percent of money spent on education is spent getting infants and toddlers hard-wired to learn.

"Research indicates that what takes place outside of the classroom is just as important in determining academic success as what happens inside it. That's why city government should take its work to the neighborhoods and to the youngest children in Memphis. We must find ways to expand Early Head Start so every child can attend rather than the fortunate few, and we must pilot intervention strategies. We must work to make sure our children are ready for school and life."

To build on this momentum, The Urban Child Institute is stepping up its research, involvement, and outreach. In the next two months, there will be opportunities for you to get more involved and more informed about the pivotal role that early brain development plays in shaping the future of our children and our community.

In February, Robin Karr-Morse, former director of parent training for the Oregon child welfare system and co-author of Ghosts From the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, will speak in Memphis about her newly released book, Scared Sick. Also, March is Brain Awareness month, and from March 12-18, there will be events and activities for you to show your support for early childhood brain development as a top priority for our community.

More details about both events will be published in the next edition of Perceptions.

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