Education

This new program will help Columbus area parents get babies, toddlers ready to start school

New initiative will help Columbus area parents get their kids ready to enter school

Mario Davis and Helena Coates talk about The Basics Chattahoochee Valley on Tuesday during a conference at Columbus State University. The Basics is a community initiative designed to promote learning and language for babies and toddlers.
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Mario Davis and Helena Coates talk about The Basics Chattahoochee Valley on Tuesday during a conference at Columbus State University. The Basics is a community initiative designed to promote learning and language for babies and toddlers.

Columbus area parents have a new resource to help their babies and toddlers learn before they enter school, thanks to a new program that’s the first of its kind in Georgia in Alabama.

More than 150 community leaders and education officials gathered Tuesday in the Cunningham Center at Columbus State University to launch “The Basics Chattahoochee Valley.”

It’s the local version of an awareness campaign started in Boston four years ago that has spread to about 30 communities across the United States. Columbus 2025, a five-year strategic plan created by local community leaders, is bringing The Basics here to address one of its five goals: developing more talented and educated people.

Research shows 80 percent of a person’s brain growth happens during the first three years of life, so the Columbus 2025 Birth to Pre-K Committee chose The Basics to help promote learning and language development.

The Basics Chattahoochee Valley has a website (cv.thebasics.org) and Facebook and Instagram pages with free advice — through text and video, in English and Spanish — about how to provide an effective learning environment at home.

The Basics’ five tips for parents are:

1. Maximize love, manage stress: “Babies and toddlers thrive when their world feels loving, safe and predictable,” this guideline says. “Respond with smiles, words and touch to help them see, hear and feel your love. You will help them develop a sense of security and self-control.”

2. Talk, sing and point: “Babies learn language from the moment they are born,” this guideline says. “Respond to their sounds and later their words. Connect with eye contact and a loving tone of voice while pointing to help them know what you are talking about.”

3. Count, group and compare: “Every child’s brain is wired for math,” this guideline says. “Talk about numbers, shapes, patterns and comparisons as you go about your routines together. Watch your child learn to love math.”

4. Explore through movement and play: “Babies are like scientists who love making discoveries,” this guideline says. “Watch to see what interests your child, then encourage their curiosity and help them learn when they play and explore.”

5. Read and discuss stories: “Reading turns kids into confident thinkers,” this guideline says. “Make books a regular part of your relationship from the very beginning. With infants, point at the pictures and speak with excitement. With toddlers, just make it fun.”

Approximately $22,500 from the Deal Center for Early Learning, the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley and Columbus 2025 donors is funding an awareness campaign for the program, said Columbus 2025 Executive Director Tabetha Getz, as well as in-kind donations totaling approximately $10,000 for printing, design and research.

Advertising will be done via Metra buses, social media (@cvbasics) and printed materials, such as posters in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices, bookmarks at libraries and handouts at service providers, Getz said. Information also will be sent home from childcare centers and schools, she said.

At the conference, Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis told the audience what’s at stake. He put it in stark terms:

If a community is aware of a need as severe and crucial as improving the school readiness of its children, then failing to address that need is like doctors being at risk of medical malpractice if they ignore obvious signs, he said.

“We now know better,” Lewis said. “Let’s all get together and do better on behalf of our children — please.”

“Can I get an amen?” said committee co-chair Helena Coates.

Ron Ferguson, an MIT-trained economist and adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University, directs the Achievement Gap Initiative, a founding partner of The Basics.

He said it’s too early to determine whether The Basics is a successful model using statistical evidence, but the initial success is engaging communities and organizations.”

“The first two or three years in life involve a huge amount of early brain development,” he said. “The quantity and the quality of that brain development depends upon the quantity and the quality of the interaction the child has with other people. The Basics give them a guide for the types of interactions that matter.”

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.
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