Yoko Ono once said, “You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
It’s true for every one of us. Each human brain is a wondrous thing, a tiny universe inside a mere bony shell—the ineffable within the ordinary.
A very young child’s developing brain is even more marvelous because its component stars, clouds, filaments and galaxies form and restructure constantly—at light speed.
A baby’s brain changes more between birth and her first birthday than it does between then and adulthood; and a staggering percentage of its lifetime development—as much as 90 percent according to many experts—takes place before she enters kindergarten.
Connections between neurons grow at the rate of 700 to 1,000 per second for the first few years of life. If those connections are not repeatedly reinforced, however, they will be pruned away. Reinforcement is amazingly simple, but the timing is critical, since this bodily Big Bang slows radically by age 6.
Neuroscientists have found that using some of humankind’s oldest, simplest communication tools early, often and well will enable parents and caregivers to make significant contributions to their children’s lifetime intellectual capacities.
The Phoenix Public Library’s early literacy outreach team, funded by Arizona’s 2008 First Things First initiative, has developed an easy, cost-free, multipart strategy to take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity. They help parents and caregivers of very young children use interactive, open-ended conversation, reading and storytelling skills by modeling and reinforcing those skills in StoryTime sessions full of activities that can be repeated at home.
All of the various StoryTime programs for children offered through the library seamlessly incorporate the latest neuroscience discoveries and utilize important early learning concepts and techniques to maximize every child’s capabilities.
There are 15 (and counting) mix-and-match variations of the StoryTime franchise, to meet the needs of different age groups (baby, toddler, preschooler and family), different interests (baby sign, toddler sign, science/nature, and play) and different locations—the central library, all 16 branches and some new off-site spots.
I attended a BabyTime at Changing Hands Bookstore in central Phoenix to see this particular program in action. Changing Hands is an active community partner of the Phoenix Public Library, and a terrific neighborhood platform for all things literary.
Tom Leveen and Katy Spratt, early literacy specialists, conducted their weekly Thursday morning drop-in class for a group of seven walkers and crawlers and their caregivers. It was a delightful session, full of laughter, moving and shaking, puppets, bubbles, songs, fingerplays and picture books—in English, a little French, Spanish and baby sign. The hosts modeled age-appropriate, do-at-home question, conversation and storytelling skills for caregivers as they entertained and engaged the kids, who also received stickers and coupons for free picture books at the end of the session.
The Phoenix Public Library literacy team and the StoryTime sessions are excellent resources for parents and caregivers. Using them will help children expand their inner universe, and that will let them reach for the stars and beyond in this one.