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Children’s earliest years linked to future success

Cindy McCain
By Cindy McCain

Cindy McCain is wife of Arizona Senator John McCain and a member of the advisory and leadership council of Too Small to Fail. This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.

After graduate school, I made a decision to become a special-education teacher. I can still see myself walking into my first classroom, a little terrified, but excited about what was behind that door.

There is something magical about watching kids’ faces light up when they master a new concept. There’s something awe-inspiring when the light bulb goes off and a small hand shoots up in the air, determined to be the first one to answer.

What most people didn’t know then — and what the brain science tells us now — is that “education” starts long before preschool or kindergarten. Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops during their first five years of life, well before most children enter school. And how we interact with our children today will shape their brains and mold their futures.

Too Small To Fail — a joint initiative by Next Generation and the Clinton Foundation — recognizes that what we do today to improve the lives and learning of our kids has a dramatic effect on their futures, and our country’s future.

Too Small’s call to action transcends party and politics, which is why I am proud to join Hillary Clinton, Bill Frist and others in this effort to motivate businesses, parents, caregivers and all of us to take evidence-based actions that will help our kids learn, grow and develop.

The science behind this effort is amazing. When we talk to our kids, up to 700 neurons per second light up in their brains. Simply talking to your baby helps make them smarter. Reading to our children, singing and even hugging them spark brain development and teach them important language skills. Statistics show that children who arrive at school knowing more words do better. Conversely, children who don’t develop adequate speech and language early on are up to six times more likely to experience reading problems, making their road harder.

Of course, parents today are busier than ever. Sometimes it’s all you can do to find time to make dinner, much less grab a book. But just as that food is nourishment for your child’s body, that book — and the time you take to hold your child while reading it — is nourishment for his or her mind. Parents need to know this, but so do business executives and employers who can provide the workplace flexibility that allows working parents to get home and nurture their little ones.

This all makes obvious sense to me as a parent. But it also makes sense to me as businesswoman and a Republican, because it is a smart and sensible approach.

Many educators, scientists, doctors and children’s advocates have been thinking about these issues for years. The difference today is that the brain science is front and center, and new technologies mean more people can learn about it.

This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.