Alabama wants parents to “put their phone down” and respond to their babies to get neurons firing and help form neurological connections in those crucial early years.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey today announced the start of what her administration is calling “a statewide movement” to raise awareness among parents about early childhood brain development and the importance of high quality childcare and preschool.
“We know that it starts with that parent,” said Jeana Ross, Early Childhood Education Secretary in Ivey’s administration, during a press call on Monday. “The parent understanding that they are that child’s first and most important teacher.”
Ross said though her department is overseeing the implementation of Born Ready, the movement, which includes a website and a full plate of social media offerings, is the result of collaborative efforts across multiple state agencies. The movement is the result of months of work to build a system of support for early learning in Alabama, she said, supported by a $10 million federal grant.
The Born Ready website and digital campaign offers ways parents can engage with their young children and encourages parents to talk with children during their everyday activities like grocery shopping, pointing out colors and sounds.
“Born Ready’s goals are to inspire and empower every parent, and to ensure every child reaches their greatest potential,” Ross said. “Our website, BornReady.org, is a game-changing resource for Alabama families. It will provide the resources needed to build successful and contributing citizens for the future.”
Parents need resources and information, Ross said, to give them the confidence they need to help their young children. In focus groups conducted across the state, Ross said, parents said they were ashamed and fearful to ask for help, worrying that it could reflect poorly on them and might invite unwanted attention to their family.
Ross said the resources on the site will help all parents, regardless of their income, but there will be a special effort to help parents who have fewer resources available.
In addition to offering resources for parents, the site asks parents to take the “Born Ready Parent Pledge,” where they “acknowledge awareness that 95% of a child’s brain develops from birth through age five, that you understand the importance of high quality early care and education, and that you promise to create learning opportunities for your child by engaging with them in all of life’s little moments.”
“If we can help parents understand that just those first gestures that they make with a child when they’re born, when the child babbles or coos or makes a face,” Ross said, it’s important for parents to acknowledge the child and respond.
Ross’ department has earned national accolades for the state’s First Class Pre-K program, which enrolled nearly 19,000 four-year-olds, one-third of all four-year-olds in Alabama, in 1,045 classrooms across all counties. With additional funding from lawmakers, 164 classrooms were added for the current school year.
Ross spoke with AL.com about the initiative in September, when questions were raised about a $999,000 contract awarded to Telegraph Creative, a Birmingham firm employing two former staffers of Yellowhammer Media, a conservative news site in the state.
According to Ross, Telegraph helped with the formal needs assessment and created the messaging around what has now been revealed as the Born Ready movement. “I think it’s going to be something the state can be proud of,” Ross said at the time.
Early childhood learning is an integral part of Ivey’s “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative, which focuses on pre-K through workforce training.
“Your child is born ready to learn and you’re born ready to teach,” Ivey said. “The Born Ready movement will inspire parents to use everyday events as teaching moments. Every Alabama child–no matter their geographic location or socioeconomic status–will benefit from this movement, starting in the home and extending to all early childhood education settings.”