5 Steps to Five
a program helping parents to prepare their babies for success in school and life.
For years, we in this country have spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting poverty, especially trying to help children stay in school, let alone do better. The intent, laudable; but the results, too often lamentable.
The country has finally begun implementing pre-K. But pre-K is a long way from birth. A new baby’s brain is raring to go at birth (and even before birth, while still in the mother’s womb).
The Importance of an Infant’s First Three Years
1. Neuroscientists have observed that, starting shortly before and after birth, the brain is the site of "a bit of biological exuberance. ” 1
Infant brains produce trillions more synapses— the connections between nerve cells—than are found in mature, adult brains. A 2-year-old's brain has about twice as many synapses as his or her pediatrician's! This exuberance seems to be confined to the first three years of life. 1
2. Studies have shown that children in low-income homes actually hear 30 million fewer words than children living in better circumstances, which leads to loss of verbal and cognitive development needed to do well in school.
In addition to the number of words exchanged, higher-income families provided their children with far more words of praise compared to children from low-income families. Conversely, children from low-income families were found to endure far more instances of negative reinforcement compared to their peers from higher-income families.
3. Neuroscientists also know there are critical times during which the brain requires certain kinds of stimulation if it is to develop. Think of them as “time windows” during which—given the right stimuli—normal brain circuitry develops.
Once the windows close, the opportunity to wire certain kinds of neural pathways, if not totally eliminated, diminishes substantially.
Infants’ First and Most Important Teachers: Parents
By the end of year three, the human brain has completed about 85% of its physical growth.
This doesn’t mean the brain stops developing after age three, but it emphasizes how significant the first years are.
And because parents are children’s first and most important teachers, getting parents to realize this window of opportunity -- and be coached on how to make the most of it—is what “5 Steps to Five” is all about.
1. Rima Shore, Rethinking the Brain, 2016
2 New YorkTimes, October 26, 201
Confronting the “Pathologies of Poverty”
Instead of spending our country’s money and resources trying to mediate the negative results of poverty, there is clear evidence that we should – and can – deal with the causes of poverty.
A major study from Stanford University noted that academic achievement gaps in children can begin as early as 18 months of age, when there was a measurable six months difference in children from rich and poor families.
By age five, it can be a two-year gap.
As Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up.”2
Kristof’s warning: “We’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with it cheaply, at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent…. we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.”2
Babies Have Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them, But Not a Moment to Waste
Very early childhood is a magical time. The good news is, when parents take simple, consistent steps to enrich their baby’s environment, the benefits resonate throughout the child’s life.
To that end, 5 Steps to Five helps coaching parents on how to stimulate their babies’ minds, nurture their spirits, and give them the foundation they need to succeed in school and become successful adults.
5 Steps to Five Makes the Most of Every Minute
Take small groups of parents and their babies, put them together with trained early child education instructors, provide them with a structured curriculum, and you’ve got the elements of the successful 5 Steps to Five parenting program.
As the babies mature, parents are coached on ways to nurture each child’s growing body; the parents grow in confidence, empowerment, and skill.
Throughout the program, parents share their progress and receive ongoing feedback and guidance, both from their group facilitators and each other.
How Are We Doing?
Over 260 different families have attended one or more sessions since our start with just seven families in spring 2014. Some families have attended over 80 Saturday-morning sessions. Mothers are interviewed after attending a sufficient number of sessions.
• Across a battery of questions about how the program may have helped, the average rating among 102 mothers was 9.3 out of a possible high of 10.
• One-third of the mothers grew up with no books in the home. We give each family a new book once a month. The parents tell us that they now read to their children four times more often than they did before being in the program.
• From our very first session, mothers have praised the program with their own spontaneous comments. Perhaps the most telling was:
“If I had known what I now know,
I would have raised my first child a whole lot differently.”