The First Lady calls for Americans to work together and give parents the tools they need to raise their children and provide them with a lifetime of learning
SOMETIMES IT SEEMS THAT TIME HASN'T always been an ally to us parents. As Bill and I have discovered at every birthday and every milestone in our daughter Chelsea's life, months and years fly much faster than we ever want. Like other parents bracing themselves for a child's departure for college, we ask ourselves every day: "How did the baby we brought home from the hospital grow up so fast?" "Is there any way we can move the White House to her college campus?"
Of course, we know that Chelsea is ready to begin a new phase of her life and that college will be a great experience. But it still doesn't keep us from reviewing the past 17 years and wondering if we've made the most of every minute to prepare her for the challenges of adulthood.
As science is no;' telling us, some of the most important preparation we can give our children takes place during the earliest years of life. New research has confirmed what many parents have known instinctively: infants begin learning the minute they are born. They are acutely aware of their surroundings and their brains crave and absorb all sorts of stimulation. Recently we have learned that the combination of intellectual and emotional interactions with infants and toddlers--holding a child in your lap while reading a story, for example--is crucial to their learning and emotional development.
Although Bill and I didn't realize it at the time, the countless hours we spent cuddling with Chelsea and reading her favorite stories not only strengthened our relationship with her but literally helped her brain grow.
Unfortunately, too many children are still missing this early stimulation. Just half of all infants and toddlers in our country are routinely read to by their parents. Over the years I have met parents who tell me they never really talk to their babies because babies can't understand what they are saying. I've also met parents who thought that they couldn't read well enough themselves to read to a child.
We must help parents understand that, no matter their educational level or reading ability, they can stimulate their children's cognitive and emotional development by talking to and reading to their children, even if they stumble over a few words here and there. Most likely, their children won't even notice. But they will notice the power of reading and the books to take them on fascinating adventures and introduce them to the world of words and ideas. And just as important, they will notice the time a parent has set aside to be with them, to hold them close and to share in a nurturing activity.
Earlier this year, I announced a nationwide effort to encourage early reading in homes across our country. I believe that few efforts can make a more dramatic difference over the next 10 years than to persuade parents of all educational and economic backgrounds to take this mission of reading, talking--and even singing--to babies more seriously.