Flipping the Switch
What if boosting a toddler’s brainpower was as easy as turning on a light switch? In fact, “Flip the Switch” is one of the simple activities suggested by Vroom, an initiative that provides creative tools and materials to help families turn daily interactions with children into “brain building moments.” On one side of an electronic “flashcard” Vroom describes this idea for children between six months and two years old: “Before leaving the house today, let your child be the one to turn off the lights. Help them flip all the switches and talk about how their actions turn the lights off for darkness and on for light.” On the reverse side Vroom explains the “brainy background” behind it: “This game teaches your child about cause and effect. When one of you hits the switch, your child will observe how the lights turn off and on. Have a conversation about what is happening so they learn some new words too.”
Vroom, an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation, is one of a number of initiatives across the country focused on empowering parents to boost early childhood brain development. The first five years of life are the time of greatest brain development. Early nurturing interactions with caring adults form the basis of a healthy brain foundation. The strong case for increased federal investments for quality child care and other early childhood programs is bolstered by the great local work supporting families and communities in building healthy brains during children’s earliest years of life.
Vroom is partnering with leaders in a number of cities to build early learning communities where high quality early learning environments are available for all children. In Dallas, Vroom is working with the Commit! Partnership to improve access to quality early learning opportunities and create a continuum of care to support children and families, with an ultimate goal of ensuring 80 percent of Dallas children enter kindergarten ready to learn by 2025. They are using Vroom’s “Moments Framework” to educate parents about the importance of the early years for children’s development and suggest activities they can do. For example, what do zoos, museums, laundromats and nail salons have in common? For Vroom, these are all opportunities to spread awareness about how parents can create “brain building moments” every day while they are out and about with their children. Vroom has also launched a free app so parents can receive daily developmentally appropriate activities like “Flip the Switch” on their smartphones.
A baby is born with a brain 25 percent as large as an adult brain. Researchers at the Institute for Learning and Brain Science at the University of Washington tell us that by the time she reaches her fifth birthday, her brain is already over 90 percent of the size of her mature brain. That startling period of growth in size is mirrored by the growth in neural connections needed to learn how to process information and build skills.
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reports that in the earliest years of a child’s life more than one million of these connections are formed every second, with simpler connections paving the way for more complex ones. These early connections build the foundation for children’s future health, education and behavior. Every time adults respond appropriately to a young child’s calls for attention, they are helping build and strengthen neural connections and supporting the development of a strong brain foundation. The Center on the Developing Child refers to this quality parent-child communication as “serve and return” interactions and says the absence of them is a “serious threat” to a child’s development.
The idea for the Boston Basics initiative was born out of a 2011 conference hosted by Dr. Ron Ferguson devoted to discovering what parents need to know to help eliminate skill gaps already evident at age two. An advisory committee of researchers came up with five “Basics” all parents should practice with their children to support healthy brain development: 1) Maximize Love, Manage Stress; 2) Talk, Sing, and Point; 3) Count, Group, and Compare; 4) Explore through Movement and Play; and 5) Read and Discuss Stories. The Boston Basics Campaign, launched in January 2016, is a public-private collaboration between leaders from the Black Philanthropy Fund, the Boston Mayor’s Office, the Pediatrics Department at Boston Medical Center, WGBH Broadcasting and the Boston Children’s Museum among many other community leaders. The “basics” are being infused throughout the Boston community—engaging health care providers, places of worship, libraries and museums, barbershops, early childhood
centers, and schools to ensure parents are saturated with information about how to support their child’s brain development wherever they go. Boston Basics demonstrates the potential for private organizations and government partners to come together in support of young children in a community. The Black Philanthropy Fund was instrumental in investing time and resources to lead the campaign, which is now being expanded to a number of other cities.
Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute, launched the excellent public awareness and action campaign “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing,” which uses books, parent videos, text messaging, and social media to share fun and easy ways for parents and caregivers to boost their child’s early brain and vocabulary development. There are now “Talking is Teaching Word Gap” campaigns in dozens of cities across the country.
Just as the latest research shows that investments in quality early childhood programs generate an average annual return of more than 13 percent on every dollar invested, every effort made in boosting young children’s brainpower—including the thousands of simple, fun, and free activities parents and caregivers can weave into everyday life—benefits all of us later on. These important community initiatives are essential but cannot make up for needed public investments in programs that support children’s early development. High-quality child care and other early opportunities are out of reach for too many children and families that need them but are also critical for further strengthening children’s early brain development. Healthy early child brain development is not a partisan issue. Congress should embrace the evidence and make the investments needed today to guarantee every baby has a strong start to ensure a strong America tomorrow.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
TOP OF PAGE
Forced Out at Fox: The King of Cable News Gets Canceled
“Bill O’Reilly has helped set the bar for the normalization and dissemination of right-wing hatred, offering incendiary commentary about sexual harassment and assault, gender, race and ethnicity, low-income people, the LGBTQ community, Muslims and refugees, immigrants, and reproductive rights.”
— Media Matters for America
Bill O’Reilly’s public downfall was a long time in the making—set in motion by a string of sexual harassment claims and the hemorrhaging of high-profile advertisers from The O’Reilly Factor, a Fox News channel mainstay and money maker.
According to reporting by the New York Times, for a period that spanned 15 years, O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox—the parent company for Fox News—together settled five separate allegations of sexual harassment brought by female Fox employees—which included accusations of verbal abuse, unwanted advances and explicit comments—for $13 million. And since that report was published, more women have come forward alleging gross and inappropriate behavior by Fox’s biggest star.
O’Reilly’s cable news program was—and remains—a cash cow for Fox News. It is nothing short of a testament to the show’s money generating power and vaulted cable ratings perch that Fox News kept O’Reilly on payroll as the company quietly purchased the silence of his accusers for over a decade. In a nod to television’s obsession with re-runs, the so-called swift end to O’Reilly’s career at Fox News was preceded by a similar scandal involving Roger Ailes, the network’s co-founder and then-chairman. Accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment, 21st Century Fox paid out $35 million to Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, and several unidentified women to settle their lawsuit against Ailes. Fox News also lost two top hosts, Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly (who later accused Ailes of sexual harassment) and paid $40 million in severance to Ailes in the ensuing fallout.
Following the ouster and made-for-television-scandal of Roger Ailes, 21st Century Fox released a statement that vowed to, “continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.” Yet, O’Reilly remained on the payroll—his last contract even included a clause for his termination in case any new cases of harassment came to light—and women who claimed to have suffered under his abuse were being quieted, as per usual.
It is clear that if Fox News could not be moved by decency to maintain a “work environment based on trust and respect,” it was certainly moved by dollars.
O’Reilly was also a problematic figure in many other ways. He has a long and well-established history of making racist remarks. Days before his expulsion from Fox News, O’Reilly watched a speech Rep. Maxine Waters gave from the House floor discussing patriotism in our nation’s current political environment, and his response was to mock her hair, calling it a “James Brown wig.” Outraged that a college president was criticized as racist for posting a picture of his staff dressed in sombreros and mustaches, O’Reilly claimed that if you go to any Mexican restaurant in the world, staff comes out, “singing “Guantanamera” with the sombreros on.” I’ve had my own brushes with O’Reilly, including an interview where he demanded that leaders such as myself “stop the BS” in relation to reducing what he coined “the Black crime problem.” But it was neither racism, nor the bitter fruits of sexism that ended O’Reilly’s storied rise at Fox News.
Fox News had a choice to make: keep O’Reilly, whose ratings were still strong despite the scandal, or hurt the bottom line and lose 90 advertisers, and counting, who had stampeded away from the taint of scandal. Despite O’Reilly’s repeated denials of the harassment claims and support from people like Sean Hannity, a Fox news contributor who is now facing his own accusations of sexual harassment, and President Trump, who has his own colorful history with women, including boasting about grabbing them, and dealing with his own accusations of sexual harassment, Fox News could no longer bear the cost of keeping their star contributor.
But while O’Reilly may be down, he is far from out. His permanently tarnished reputation aside, we haven’t seen the last of Bill O’Reilly. Just days after his unceremonious ouster from Fox, O’Reilly is making his media comeback online, resuming his No Spin News podcast. His publisher has said he will continue to publish O’Reilly’s books. And he received a sizeable parting gift from Fox News in the amount of $25 million—a year’s worth of his salary.
There is a victory to celebrate here, but it is a qualified one. If, at the highest levels of leadership, we commit to the belief that “women, children, and men have inherent dignity that should never be violated.” The rise and money-padded fall of O’Reilly sends a mixed message, to say the least, to women and men in the workplace.
TOP OF PAGE
Hoyer Statement on Proposed Insurance Rate Increases in Maryland
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) released the following statement after insurance companies in the state of Maryland submitted their rate increase requests for 2018:
“I am deeply concerned by the proposed rate increases in the state of Maryland for 2018. The uncertainty sown by House Republicans and the Trump Administration, including the House’s passage of TrumpCare, is already having a negative impact on the health insurance market in our state, and in those across the country. President Trump’s failure to commit to continuing payment of cost sharing reductions, coupled with the lack of clarity regarding the enforcement of the law’s individual responsibility requirements, is forcing insurers to increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for millions of American families.
“While improvements are needed to bring health care costs down for everyone, the Affordable Care Act has brought access to affordable coverage for thousands of Marylanders, and the law must not be repealed. Should the Affordable Care Act be repealed or sabotaged, thousands of families in Maryland and across the country will be irreparably harmed. I will continue to fight efforts that would take health care away from Marylanders and raise costs for many more.”
TOP OF PAGE