The Top 7 Things All Children Need In Order To Reach Their Full Potential

Wesley Education Center For Children and Families

Excerpted from Kathleen Bryan’s keynote on Arpil 27, 2017 at the Wesley Education Center Circle of Care Dinner

The 7 things all children need to reach their full potential and WILL lead to Wesley’s vision to ensure that children have a solid foundation in math and science and are prepared for Kindergarten.

  1. Interaction – the value of interaction.  From the moment an infant is born – they are a person! They can follow the cues of a parent or care giver moments after birth. T. Berry Brazelton demonstrated to many young mothers that infants can tune into facial cues days after birth.  He would talk soothingly to an infant and then stick his tongue out and after a few attempts the infant would mimic this behavior and stick their tongue out.  This is some of the earliest signs that a child understands the scientific principle of cause and effect.  The care giver does something – the infant responds.  This also shows the infant that they are a person and that they matter!

  2. Touch – This sounds so simple - but touch is critical because the sense of touch sends signals to the brain that says “I am safe, I am loved, I am wanted and I am protected.” Baby massage is a recently researched area – especially with premature babies. It has proven that babies who are massaged develop motor skills sooner, sleep better and are less colicky.  Care givers and parents who realize this can make one of the most significant impacts on a baby.  The act of holding an infant in a loving protective way can have a lifelong impact. This can not happen if babies are in bouncy seats, high chairs or swings.  Babies need to be held, and held often.

  3. Stable Relationships – when a child can trust that the big people around them will protect them, this reduces the amount of a naturally occurring chemical in our bodies – called cortisol.  When under stress – cortisol is produced.  Cortisol can be helpful as it floods the brain to protect it when in distress, but disruptive as new learning can’t occur when levels are elevated. If you have ever been in a car accident or close to one, you know that time moves more slowly and it is difficult to remember details of the situation. This is cortisol kicking in – it protects the brain from emotional stress and trauma of the accident.  Cortisol protected you from the stress, but interrupted the learning of new things.  It is, in fact, impossible to learn new things until cortisol levels return to normal – which might take 24 hours.  Doctors have actually been able to measure the level of cortisol in saliva.  They did a study when children are given their vaccination shots.  This is a stressful situation and cortisol levels naturally rise.  They studied 2 groups of children – one group had the parents hold the child on their lap while being given the shots and other group was given the shot on the examination table.  They tested the saliva in both groups of children and they found that the children who were in the safety and stability of their parent’s arms still cried, but had significantly lower levels of cortisol – allowing them to recover more quickly.  Think about children living in high stress, high risk environments without that kind of stability.  Their cortisol levels are always elevated and remember that when cortisol is elevated new learning can’t take place. If this child has a family member or teacher who they have a stable relationship with, they can process the flood of cortisol more quickly and new learning can occur.

  4. Self- Esteem – this is related to #3.  Children will mirror their environments – research shows that children at 2 years old can demonstrate characteristics about whether or not they believe they will be successful in life.  While     care givers can buffer these characteristics by being calm, nurturing and predictable – the true secret of a child success and honestly…the future of our society… is giving the children the best early start in life…which actually starts in pregnancy.  The Erikson Institute in Chicago developed a Family Engagement Program which focused on educating mothers and families about establishing a loving nurturing environment for their children.  This project occurred in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes where all families lived below the poverty line.  The focus was that parents need not be perfect – they just need to be good enough to positively affect a child’s self-esteem.  They helped families understand the importance of health, involvement and social services.  This gave the families hope.  As a part of Carla’s plan for increased family engagement at Wesley, she exemplifies the importance of this.  Carla has already moved toward family engagement by asking for families’ input, having luncheons and cook outs as well as Kindergarten readiness meetings.  These types of activities encourage much more involvement than just simply attending a field trip.

  5. Quality Child Care – I have already mentioned that Wesley is pursuing a higher quality star rating, but the importance of quality child care needs to be highlighted.  The McCormick Institute identified the components of quality child care and it boiled down to teacher interaction with children, children’s ability to learn about themselves and others, and having use and control of their environment.  There are 14 million children in child care right now in our country and all of it is not quality!  The critical components are that teachers need to have low ratios so that they can have time to interact with children, speak respectfully to them and respect their thoughts. The environment needs to be healthy, unhurried and staffed with teachers specifically trained in ECE.

  6. Play – as just mentioned – the environment needs to be unhurried that allows children to PLAY.  I know that the last time I was allowed to “play” as an adult I would have been very upset if someone had decided that playtime was over just because the schedule said so.  Whatever your play is – ideally you want to be the one who decided to end it.  Children need an environment where they have long periods of time to learn about what works and what doesn’t work.  There is extensive research connecting play to IQ.  For example, very young children who can play with a collection of toys and group them according to their features score much higher on IQ tests.  But, don’t get too caught up in this example because another study shows that children Birth – age 5 who have a parent or caregiver who not only encouraged children’s play but actually wanted to be a playmate increases a child’s brain development.  The added advantage to being a child’s playmate is that the caregiver can begin understanding what the child is actually thinking.
  7. Last but not least – Reading – most of us know that reading to children influences their school readiness but did you know that it is not the reading but the relationship that is the best indicator?  Reading the same book over and over makes the adult reader crazy, but has been scientifically proven to have a great impact on a child’s future reading abilities.  It is not the quantity of books read, but the connection the child feels when the books are being read.  Also, when a child sees their name in print this shows them that reading has a significant importance.  This should occur well before individual letter recognition.  It is really amazing to watch how a child can demonstrate reading when asked to find the movie “Frozen” out of a stack of DVD’s or how they react when passing McDonalds.  Children are reading with a purpose when they are recognizing words in their environment.