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Kindergarten Is Too Late -- We Need to Strengthen Brains Earlier Than That

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Kindergarten is too late for a lot of children. That is a sad but biologically accurate fact of life. The basic and most important mental development processes that are needed to help each child read, stay in school, and stay out of prison actually happen before the age of five.

The golden years for strengthening each child's brain are the first three years of life. Children whose brains don't receive the right strengthening support in those first years of life tend to be poor readers.

Children who are poorly prepared and who are poor readers are 40 percent more likely to get pregnant, 60 percent more likely to drop out of school and 70 percent more likely to go to jail.

We need all children in this country to enter kindergarten ready to learn to read. We can now predict with a very high level of accuracy by the age of three which child will be able to read when they start school. Basic biology is the key. The years before age three are a time of connectivity explosions in each child's brain. The children who get direct interaction with adults -- including having people who are reading and talking with their children -- are the children whose brains become strong and capable -- and those are the children who will be best able to read.

Those first three years are truly golden years for strengthening each child's brain. They are golden years for each individual child.

We need to help each child exercise their brains so their brains grow. We know what needs to be done to exercise the brain. Exercising the brain includes reading to the child, talking to the child, and playing directly in a gentle and learning way with each child. Reading to each child is a major tool for exercising each child's brain.

Studies have shown that the children who come to kindergarten best equipped to learn to read have been read to -- on average -- nearly 1700 hours between birth and kindergarten.

The children who came to kindergarten least prepared to learn to read have been read to, on average -- between birth and kindergarten -- less than 30 hours.

Those are major differences. We know that when we exercise each child's brain, their brains are stronger and better able to read and to do well in school. There is good reason to believe that if each child could be read to by an adult only 30 minutes a day, in those golden years, we could cut the school dropout rate in this country in half.

Thirty minutes is a key tool that can change the entire life for each child.

There are many other factors that have a major impact on our children. Healthy food is important. Avoiding major stress is important. Having medical care and medical support teams add value to the lives of children. Having loving and protective parents are very important.

All of those issues are important. And the fact that we need to strengthen that early learning brain connectivity in each child in those golden early years of brain development is highly important...because the children who don't get that developmental support end up unable to read and at high risk of multiple levels of negative consequences.

We have more people in prison than any country in the world. We have more than three times as many people in our prisons as any other western country.

Seventy-five percent of our prisoners either have very poor reading skills or can't read at all. If we only put people in prison who could read, we would imprison fewer people than those other western countries.

Let's make that problem go away. We have far too many school dropouts in our cities today. Let's cut the number of school dropouts by half or more. Let's strengthen the brains of each child in those golden years.

We need to figure out ways to make that happen. We need to do what needs to be done to strengthen all of those tiny brains. We need all mothers and all families and all communities to understand the opportunities and the dangers and risks that exist for their children.

We are a very creative country. This is a problem we can solve -- and we clearly need to solve it.