GREENSBORO — For anyone who has ever wondered what to say or do with a baby or toddler, local early education advocates are offering a simple plan.
The Cemala Foundation and the new local nonprofit Ready For School, Ready for Life, are teaming up with other business and nonprofit groups to promote the “Guilford Basics.”
These “Basics” are five practices, based on brain-development research, for people to help children under age 3 learn and develop their brains, such as talking, singing and pointing; counting and comparing; and reading and discussing stories. (The complete list accompanies this article.)
For example, for “Compare” they advise parents and caregivers to let babies touch things with different textures, and then talk to the babies about how the things are similar or different. Comparing goes together with counting and grouping as skills that help build math and problem-solving ability. To demonstrate counting, a caregiver might count a baby’s toes.
There’s no need to buy anything, or to make babies or toddlers do something that isn’t enjoyable. Lots of people use these strategies every day, without ever having been advised about brain development science, said Susan Schwartz, the executive director of the Cemala Foundation.
But there are also some gaps, Schwartz said. Some people may not know that a loving, talkative, playful approach with babies and toddlers is so important, or they may be too exhausted from working long hours or dealing with other difficult life situations.
Schwartz said she first learned about the “Basics” a few years ago, from a speech by Ronald Ferguson, the director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. Ferguson pushed for Boston to unite around his group’s “Boston Basics.” The idea was that simple practices by parents and caregivers in their interactions with small children could help eliminate learning gaps. People who are lower income could adopt these practices without having to spend extra money to help their children get ahead.
Groups in more than 30 communities in the United States have adopted and promoted the “Basics” and rebranded them. Examples include The Chattanooga Basics in Tennessee and The Yonkers Basics in New York.
Leaders of the Cemala Foundation and Ready for School, Ready for Life held a kickoff event Wednesday morning at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown. The crowd of about 125 to 130 people included representatives from local nonprofits, education groups, businesses and local government, as well as GTCC students studying early childhood education.
The Cemala Foundation is the family foundation of Martha and Ceasar Cone II. Cone was the son of the founder of Cone Mills and served as the president and chairman of the textile manufacturing corporation headquartered in Greensboro from 1956 to 1973. The foundation supports early childhood development and job training in Guilford County, as well as some other Greensboro-specific projects. It helped to start Ready For School, Ready For Life, the new nonprofit promoting kindergarten readiness that also partnered to bring the Basics to Guilford County.
At the kickoff, leaders gave everyone who attended 10 flyers about the Guilford Basics to give out, as well as a poster to put up. They plan to work with doctors’ offices, places of worship and other nonprofits to help spread the message.
Schwartz said they did a pre-launch community survey of 1,000 people. The survey asked whether they knew that more than 80% of brain development happens before age 3, and whether they thought the five practices were important for a child’s brain development. For each of the five practices, about 80% to 90% of people thought the practice was very important for childhood development.
Organizers plan to follow up in a year to see if their efforts seem to have increased those percentages. They will use that data to help decide if their efforts to promote the basics are working.
Jeremy Simpson, a member of the Guilford Basics Advisory Committee member, stressed that everyone who attended Wednesday’s event should practice the Guilford Basics with all their very young acquaintances.
“When you interact with children, whether they are yours or not, find positive ways to engage with them,” he said.