by George C. Halvorson

Too many people do not know that the first three years of life are key to the brain development of each child.

Children whose brains are exercised in those key years — by adults who talk, read, and directly interact with each child — have stronger brains. The brains of children who are isolated and who do not get that needed exercise in those first three years are at a major disadvantage — and it is extremely difficult to regain that ground for those children once those first key years have passed.

We need all children to have their brains exercised in those key years. We also need all children to have the sense of security that comes from having interactions with a loving adult in those key years.

Negative neurochemicals can physically damage the brains of children who are isolated in those key years — causing toxic stress syndrome.

Three Key Years explains what parents, family, communities, and day care settings can all do to strengthen each child’s brain in those key months and years. A top public health priority for our nation should be to teach that information to every single parent even before each child is born. We owe it to every parent to explain that science and to share those realities about helping their children with every single parent.

Three Key Years also explains what caregivers can do to help parents in those essential time frames and explains what communities can do to change the lives for each child.

Every child that we save is a child who benefits for life. We need to save every child — and we need to do it in ways that are directed specifically at each and every child we save.

Each brain develops on its own. Each brain needs basic exercise to be strong. Exercise takes very basic forms. Talking, reading, interacting, and singing to each child exercises each brain and directly strengthens each child’s brain.

The learning gaps between groups of children that exist in too many communities today do not need to exist.

We know why those gaps exist. Studies show, for example, that higher income people tend to speak many more words directly to each child and that higher income people tend to read many more books to each child.

High-income homes average 12 books per child. More than half of the lowest income homes — and more than half of the day cares for the lowest income children — do not have a single book. The higher income homes read to their children more than 1500 hours per child between birth and kindergarten. The lowest income homes read fewer than 30 hours to their children in those same years.

Roughly half of the Medicaid homes have no books and the children without books clearly do not benefit from daily reading — but 30 percent of the Medicaid mothers do have books and those mothers read every day to their children.

It can be done. It can be done for every child. It can be done regardless of income level and it can be done regardless of the race or ethnicity or gender of the child. We can help the children from every group and every income level get that needed brain exercise in those key months and years. We need every child from every group to have adults talking to them, interacting with them, and reading to them in those key months and years.

When we do that for every child, we will make the learning gaps that give us so many challenges disappear.

Three Key Years explains how that can be done and explains why we very much need to do it.