Transcript: The Beautiful Brain

Presented by Lindsey Ramsey and Cristina Codario

Parenting Together Pathway, Trying Together

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>> Lindsey Ramsey: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Beautiful Brain: The Importance of Understanding How Your Child’s Brain Grows and Develops. My name is Lindsey Ramsey. I am a Public Policy Regional Coordinator for Trying Together.

>> Cristina Codario: Hi, everyone. I’m Cristina Codario. I’m also a Public Policy Regional Coordinator for Trying Together.

>> Lindsey Ramsey: This video is a part of the Parenting Together Pathway, a series of sessions to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas. Trying Together supports high-quality care and education for young children by providing advocacy, community resources, and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals who interact with them. Below is a link for our newsletter, stay up to date on Trying Together news and events by clicking here to subscribe. At Trying Together, we envision a future in which all caregivers feel valued. So we are going to start off our presentation with an icebreaker. We want you to take some time to write down a memory about a milestone achievement that your child reached and as a caregiver, how did that make you feel?

>> Cristina Codario: So while everyone is thinking, Lindsey, do you have one you can share about your kiddos?

>> Lindsey Ramsey: Absolutely. We just had one the other day. So I have a five year old. His name is Apollo. He will be going to kindergarten this upcoming school year. And he is practicing writing and he wrote his name on a piece of paper all by himself the other day. It was backwards so it’s more like Allopo than his name Apollo. But we were so impressed how he was able to hold the pencil with his hand and he took the initiative to do it by himself. And he was very proud of himself as we were with him as well.

>> Cristina Codario: Good job, Apollo.

>> Lindsey Ramsey: Alright, everybody. We want you to keep that memory next to you and have it written aside along with you on this educational journey we’re about to take you on. Because we want you to understand how important those interactions that you have are for helping develop your child. And you know, helping them reach their milestones and make those memories with you.

>> Cristina Codario: And another thing we want you to remember is to take care of yourselves during this, too. We’re going to talk about things like science and brain, and we can do hard things. We just want to encourage you a little bit. We think about our kiddos during this, but we also want to think about ourselves. We know that sometimes when we think about learning as adults it can be really challenging and we can do these hard things when we think about neuroscience and learning about brain science. Lindsey and I, we are not scientists, but we are going to learn the important pieces of brain science so that you can learn about how your children develop and grow and the best ways to teach them. So we’re going to learn the basics and we’re going to learn the most important pieces and we can do those hard things. And so we see your fear, if you have it and even though you might have a little bit of it, we can do those hard things. And if you go — this is a quote from Glennon Doyle, if you go to her website and if you Google Untamed book you can find a little coloring book page for free and color a little bit to get your stress out if you are triggered, let’s say, by science type words like some of us are.

>> Lindsey Ramsey: Thank you so much for that encouragement, Cristina. I think we all needed that. So some of our goals during this presentation, we’re going to familiarize caregivers of young children with how the brain develops. We’re also going to be understanding the impact of interactions, environments, and trauma on a child’s brain. And then, we’re going to be developing an understanding of how strong brain development can be effectively supported through fun and engaging activities. Our presentation overview will consist of Topic 1, experiences and interactions;Topic 2, brain basics; Topic 3, the environment; Topic 4, trauma; and Topic 5, support systems and a caregiver’s role in development. First, we’re going to talk about experiences and interactions. The brain pathways underlying communication skills are being built early on in life, from the prenatal period to about seven years of age. Active participation and communicating, both talking and listening, during the period of plasticity will provide the child with strong brain pathways for communication skills for the rest of their lives. And just a little fun fact below, brain research shows that 90% of brain development occurs during the first five years of life and to put that in perspective, that’s why early interactions matter so much. So we’re going to head into a little bit of a case study. It’s called “Mother’s Speech and a Child’s Vocabulary.” Here, we have two different families, two different mothers, two different children. Just to give you some similarities of both of them, both families and both children, they live in the same neighborhood. Dwayne and Jayden are their names. They are the same age and neither child is experiencing any trauma or developmental delays. So we’re going to start with Dwayne and his mother first. Dwayne’s mother is a hairstylist and she is very, very talkative. She talks to her clients all day long. She’s one of those hairstylists who talks your ears off and at home she brings that same energy. When she gets at home with Dwayne, she just talk, talk, talks, talks to him all day and it’s speech that has been directly, directed to him since birth. By two years of age, Dwayne is expected to have 600 words in his vocabulary. Next, we have Jayden and his mother. Jayden’s mother is a little bit less talkative. She is a dental hygienist so she always has tools in somebody’s mouth so there’s really no need to talk a whole bunch to clients, right? So she’s more on the quiet side and more reserved. So when she gets home with Jayden she’s not as talkative. He has less exposure to verbal communication in the first two years of his life. Jayden is expected to have about 150 words on his vocabulary by the age of two. So here you get to see the trajectory of their speech building. Although Dwayne and Jayden will keep adding words to their vocabulary through their development, through their interactions, right, Dwayne, because the interactions that he had with his mother early on has stronger brain circuits, and speaking will be much easier for him for the rest of his life. So the use of brain circuits after the plastic period continue to build. So that means that though both have an opportunity to build their speech, right? But it’s just a lot harder after that plastic period and it’s not as effective and slow. It’s a little bit slower building those circuits after the plastic period ends. So although it’s possible to build Jayden’s development, it just might happen a little bit slower for him after his plastic period.

>> Cristina Codario: Great. So we’re going to think a little bit more about brain architecture and watch this video that will help us think about the parent and caregiver’s role more and then talk more about it.

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>> Our brains allow us to perceive and interact with the world around us. This three-pound mass of tissue contains nearly 40 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses or connections sending information to the rest of our body at a rate of nearly 500 messages per second. Science tells us that early brain development affects the course of our later lives. Years of accumulated research on how the brain develops and functions now informs best practices in the nurturing of children. But there remains a disconnect between this science and what is practiced in communities. The gap between knowledge and practice has huge consequences for society.

>> If we look at the cost of health care, the achievement gap, look at crime, the problems that we face in society today, science tells us that we actually know the root of these problems. Many of these problems actually go back to early childhood.

>> I get a lot of referrals from school for behavioral problems. A lot of times teachers refer kids due to acting out behaviors, attentional problems, learning problems. Although we call them school-related behaviors, lots of times they’ve developed years and years before. They just start showing when children enter school.

>> We all know that some children get to school much more capable of learning than others and that how they arrive at school will influence how they do for the rest of their academic careers. So one way to think about the development of brain architecture in early childhood is it’s a lot like building a house.

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>> And as when building a house, the developing brain requires a sturdy foundation. A proper brain foundation needs responsive and nurturing adults.

>> Our brains definitely need stimulation to be able to wire the brain up correctly. Left in a crib, a child cannot provide the stimulation its brain needs to form a healthy and solid brain architecture.

>> Responsive parenting is key to a process called pruning. Pruning is how the brain creates the most efficient pathways possible. During the first year of life, there are periods of growth where nearly 700 synapses are formed a second, creating connections for language, hearing, vision, and movement. However, not all these connections are needed or are efficient. Pruning back the pathways that are rarely used allows the brain to send signals more quickly. These pathways are the foundation for later learning forming our brain architecture. Babies’ brains grow by building themselves from the bottom up.

>> So you’re sculpting the brain by the information that the brain is processing.

>> By the age of two, our brains have already made some giant developmental leaps. Regions of the brain that control vision and hearing have already developed. Areas that handle language and communication skills, which are heavily dependent upon interaction with adults, are rapidly developing. And the part of our brain that deals with higher order reasoning and cognitive functions is at its crucial beginning phase of development. Sadly, many children do not receive the attention they need to form healthy brain architecture.

>> By age two, we can already predict third grade reading scores. So many of the things that we think are happening later in life actually have their beginnings in early childhood, in infancy.

>> The ability to predict third grade reading skills at age two has to do with understanding brain architecture. The part of the brain that controls language and communication has its largest growth spurt during a child’s first four years. Without a responsive adult at this age, the pruning process begins to disconnect underused pathways. This leads to language and reading difficulties later.

>> The brain doesn’t work in pieces. It works as a coherent whole. So if the foundation isn’t set well, it sends poor information to those higher centers. And what starts looking like a problem in this part of the brain ends up being a problem in attention regulation and higher order cognition. So brain architecture is not set by two years of age. There’s still a lot happening but what happens early influences what happens later. Skill begets skill.

>> Research shows that children who have had positive adult interaction, adequate nutrition, and minimal exposure to stress arrive at school better able to learn than those who have grown up with those factors. What adults can do to help a child’s developing brain reach its full potential will be covered in the video, Serve and Return.

>> Cristina Codario: OK. So we couldn’t have said it better so why not just let them say it, right? So we have a lot of things to talk about from that video I think, Lindsey, and if we go to the next slide, it’s going to highlight a couple of the key pieces. But we learned a lot from that and what we learned was that humans are born with a ton of brain cells but it’s actually like too much. We have to prune from there, right? And as you talked about, we have that plastic period really early on but we need to, you know, learn in that early childhood period and again, prune back those hundred billion brain cells. Infants have a lot of brain cells but we have to decide what’s important and what to prioritize and what to learn about. And if we have good experiences, we’re going to really focus on those and kind of again, prune back and focus on those experiences and that’s what we want kids to do. We have to really think about what we’re investing in when we invest in early childhood. Lindsey and I are on the public policy team so you know that we focus a lot of our time thinking about increased investments in early childhood. And so, we want to really encourage everyone to put those funds into early childhood and that’s one of the things that we talk about. And that video showed you the root of the problem really can be traced back to early childhood so often then why not try to really focus on those times in early childhood when we can really invest in our children? And make sure that we increase our time during those developmental periods and make sure that we are really focusing on that plastic period and making sure that our children have quality experiences very early in their lives. And making sure that they have good experiences early in their lives and those strong connections really are positive and good experiences. So I think that if we have, you know, these conversations we can have about the genes and the interactions throughout brain development, genes form connections in the major brain regions and then again, we prune away those areas. So we can move on to the next slide. Genes and interactions shape the brain. OK. So we want think about different ways that we’re born with our genes and then we have interactions that shape the brain as well. But as you can see here, we have some things. There’s nature versus nurture, right? So there’s brain’s ability to change in response to our experiences. That is that plastic period. And then, as we know as we become adults, it gets harder and harder. As we said at the beginning we can do hard things but they become hard as we get older. Those things become more and more challenging. So I would just say that why do we want to make it harder to learn? Why not learn these things earlier on? So you can go to this Harvard Center on the Developing Child to learn way more about this if you’re really interested in these type of nerdy things. But do you need to know them as a parent? You don’t need to know all the details. What you do need to know is that your child has these abilities, right? They’re almost like superpowers to learn as a child and they are absorbing everything around them like a sponge, right? And so they see everything that happens. They’re absorbing everything and you really need to be mindful of that. That’s what we want you to take away from today. That they have the genes, they have everything they were born with, but their interactions matter, too. So when you look at this graph you see that it’s a lot harder as they get older for them to learn and develop and change. And their genes contribute but their interactions really contribute, too. So again, it’s really challenging the older you get as you know, that when you try to learn as you get older, if you try to learn a language is a lot harder when you grow older, right? So another thing to keep in mind is we have these different circuit areas. So maybe as a parent you go to the pediatrician and they’re teaching you about the different ways that your child learn through their vision, their social-emotional skills, their different — you might hear and talk about their gross motor skills, right? So we don’t need to know like the really scientific terms for this but let’s just talk about kind of the different general circuit areas of the brain. So these cells kind of come together and form this circuit area. So the brain cells are programmed to reach out and connect to other neighboring brain cells and they form groups and they’re referred to as circuits. We don’t, again, to — no need to write it down and keep it in a notebook anywhere but these are just the different areas, right, the visual, the social-emotional, the communication, the fine and gross motor, and the complex thinking. So these are just the major areas of development. Again, that there’s that like pruning and grouping of cells happening and they all come together. They have all those billion of brain cells and how are they going to be organized? It’s kind of like a filing system of all those neurons and circuit areas grouping together to be organized and what better way to be organized than visual, social-emotional, communication, fine and gross motor, complex thinking? And your child’s brain cells are all trying to get more organized. But we want them to be organized in a thoughtful way and in a way that’s helpful to your child and not in a random way. So how can you do that? Good question. Well, the one magical way any parent can do that is through something a lot of educators call serve and return. And that is sort of an interesting way to say interacting with your child. So we’re going to watch a little video to think about how you can do that.

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>> We’re now learning about the many ways in which solid brain foundations are built and maintained in a developing child. One important way is through what brain experts call serve and return interactions. Imagine a tennis match between a caregiver and a child, but instead of hitting a ball back and forth across the net, various forms of communication pass between the two. From eye contact to touch, from singing to simple games like peek-a-boo.

>> The child serves or indicates they’re interested in something. The adult who’s attentive to that child returns that interest. And that ramps up the child’s enthusiasm and they do the activity again. So when they’re learning to read, the child shows an interest in a book. The adult sees that and reads to them. The child gets all excited and tries reading back. And then the child is using those circuits that underlie reading over and over again driven by the enthusiasm with the interaction with the attentive adult.

>> The response and attention a child receives from an adult when they are practicing certain social, emotional, and physical skills goes a long way to sparking that child’s own excitement with learning and repeating certain actions.

>> The child gets positive feedback from the adult and they try harder so they’re using that circuit again and again. That circuit will really be sturdy and will form a sturdy architecture for later life function.

>>In order to build these sturdy circuits in a developing brain, it’s crucial for caregivers to actively engage with the child. Prolonged passive activities such as leaving a child alone in front of a television or merely holding the child without eye contact will not build solid brain architecture.

>> Without serve and return, attentive adult interactions, the child’s much less likely to undertake a lot of these activities and their brain won’t develop as well.

>> Serve and return interactions repeated throughout a young person’s developing years are the bricks that build a healthy foundation for all future development.

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>> Cristina Codario: OK. Great. So serve and return, it can be as simple as walking down the aisles of the grocery store and just saying, “Hey, what’s that?” You know, your kid is asking questions about the lemon or whatever the fruit is that they’re interested in and they want to grab something. So you can work it into your everyday life. It doesn’t have to be, you know, anything that’s complicated. It’s not a lesson plan. It’s just your everyday life and how they can work into your everyday life. So those everyday interactions they’re having really do matter and it’s just as simple as smiling at an infant and making eye contact, right? So that’s why it’s called serve and return. It’s just as simple as imagining, you know, you’re playing tennis or something, not that I ever played tennis. But, you know, that’s why it has that kind of imagery because you’re thinking about tossing the ball back and forth, right? So you’re just making that eye contact, you’re smiling. It’s all those things that, you know, may seem easy to you and maybe you do them naturally but just think of ways to incorporate them more into your day-to-day activities with your kids. And they just mean a lot to your child’s healthy brain development. And again, we just want to reinforce because as we know, when we’re adults we need to reinforce and repeat, repeat, repeat, right? So those strong circuits are formed during that plastic period and those are available for the rest of your life. So you want to make sure that those are good connections that are made for your child. Of course, they’re not always going to be perfect but you want them to be the ideal and happy ones as much as possible and we’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. And building them require repetition, repetition, repetition. So you’ll see the orange string here connecting those repeated connections, connections, connections. So this is just something to think about. How can a caregiver build a strong connection between the visual and communication circuit? So how might that happen, you can think about that to yourself. And Lindsey, do all circuit connections come from good experiences?

>> Lindsey Ramsey: No. So as we know, not all interactions are good interactions and those interactions are what help build those circuit connections. So no, they do not come from — all of them don’t come from good experiences. That’s why we need to be so mindful that we are having strong, healthy, positive interactions with our children. We’re going to get into a little bit about the environment. Just thinking about those interactions that we have, the environment in which we have those interactions matter so much. A child’s environment and experiences play a huge role in shaping their brain development. Supportive environments help children learn new skills. When children are in an environment where they are loved, taken care of, and the adults are there to motivate and encourage them, they’ll be more likely to learn new skills.

>> Cristina Codario: And, OK, so when we think about negative experiences, what do we think about? We think of this big T word, trauma, which is something we have talked about more these days which is, I think, a good thing. So first, to talk about trauma, we want to define it. Trauma is an event or series of events that overwhelms the central nervous system. What is that? OK. It’s just the brain and the spinal cord. That’s a fancy word for the brain and the spinal cord. More simply put, trauma is what occurs when your solution to your problem, your active response to threat does not work. So you have a solution in your mind and it doesn’t work. Trauma changes your brain. So that’s why we’re talking about it. That includes something we call toxic stress. Again, another buzzword I think you hear these days. Something you might hear people talk about is something called adverse childhood experiences and these are something that activates your survival instinct. Again, that active response threat, that’s something called your survival instinct or you might call it triggers. You might say like, “Hey, that triggered me,” or you know, that really made you feel like it was a toxic environment. So different things you might just throw around in conversation, but really that’s like an experience of trauma or making you feel like you’re experiencing some type of trauma or it’s activating your past experiences of trauma. Even as adults, we experience these things. But we’re going to talk about them in children, but of course, we remember them as adults. So let’s talk a little bit more about toxic stress and what is stress response especially in childhood. Well, the good thing that we can say is stress impacts all of our lives. This is true in childhood too. And again, the good thing is that there is a normal and essential part of stress response that is a part of healthy development. So we have normal and essential and positive stress. That is a normal and healthy part of child development. So you, I know, as parents probably want to protect your little ones and keep them in a little bubble because when they were born, you just wanted to protect them. And that is something that many parents want but that is not something that is healthy for them anyway. So even though you want that and you know that that’s not going to happen through their lives, the good news is that positive stress does exist for your child. So you can let yourself off the hook and say, “OK, my child needs to be resilient.” They need to experience some challenges in life in order to be a good, healthy, developed person. OK? So let it go, take a deep breath, right? Stress response is normal. So there’s some positive stress that your child will experience in life. Let’s think of some examples. The first day of school, OK? So you meet new people. No, not COVID times. You go to school face to face, you meet people. It’s stressful, you know. You have little butterflies in your stomach, but that’s stressful because you’re away from your family for the first time and you’re meeting all those new people. But it’s normal, it’s healthy, it’s a step out of your comfort zone. That’s the sort of like that feeling of the bird flying from the nest, right, that stepping out of your comfort zone, totally normal, totally healthy, healthy child development. Getting a vaccine for the first time, but again, you know that you can come back. You can come back to the nest and it’s a totally positive healthy kind of thing. There’s also something called tolerable stress. This is something that it’s like a limited duration of time, right? So like for example, if you have like a broken bone or maybe the loss of a loved one, so like a grandparent passes away or something like that, these are something that you want — it’s a little bit more severe of a stressor but you know that you have a grownup or an adult in your life that you can go to for support. So for example, if you have a broken bone but you know you can go to a parent or a caregiver and say, “Hey, I broke my bone. Let’s go to the doctors. Let’s go to the hospital and get that broken bone fixed and put in a cast.” Now, if you have a broken bone and you can’t do that and there is no support and you don’t have a parent or caregiver that can do that for you, that then becomes — it raises to the level of toxic stress because you don’t have that. So there are certain children that don’t have that support in their lives, so it kind of depends on the situation and depends on the child. But for most children, a broken bone would just be tolerable. You know, you would go, you would get it fixed and you would be fine and it would just be a story you would tell as an adult. “Hey, I did something silly. I fell riding my bike,” and then it was fine, OK? Toxic stress is something that is maybe like physical abuse or exposure to violence, experiences of racism, so many things that are prolonged adversity, something that is frequent that just happens all the time. So this is something we don’t want our children to experience. It’s toxic to their learning and development and growth. And we want to protect our children from it and we want to make sure that the systems in our society protect our children from it as well. So not only do we want to make sure that these things don’t happen to our children, but we want to also advocate for these things not to occur to our children. And with that, we can watch a little video for different ways that not only do we not want toxic stress but sometimes there are things that occur that you, as a parent, might feel a little bit hopeless about not being able to avoid toxic stress. So this video is very good about having those discussions.

>> We all want to give our children what they need to grow to their full potential and as parents, we play an important role in their development. But our parenting is affected by the supports and challenges in our lives, including experiences that cause what’s known as toxic stress. Stress is called toxic when it doesn’t let up and there aren’t supportive relationships to help us cope. That can make it hard to get through the day, let alone be the best caregivers we can be. The overwhelming burden of toxic stress can affect the health and wellbeing of adults. It can also affect the development of children in ways that can last a lifetime. Stress that puts us in a constant state of fight or flight can make it feel like we’re always on edge or like it’s impossible to calm down. And these feelings can overload our ability to provide the supportive relationships that children need in order to thrive. Think of toxic stress as heavy cargo. Just as a truck can only haul so much weight before it stops moving forward, challenging life circumstances like losing a job or not having a place to live can weigh us down. And just as a truck can break down if it carries too much for too long, we too can wear down from being overburdened without the support we need. When toxic stress is related to things we can’t control like poverty, abuse, or racism, it can feel especially heavy to take on. But experiencing toxic stress doesn’t have to determine who we are or how we act. And understanding how stress affects us can empower us to make change in our lives. There are things we can do to buffer ourselves and our children against the effects of even the most intense stress. Just as redistributing cargo from an overloaded truck can help it run again, supports and services, things like food pantries, job training programs, or even just talking with someone who cares can help us focus on caring for ourselves and our children. And just as regular maintenance is required to keep a truck running, reliable access to community services can help us manage the load during challenging times. Reaching out to get support can be difficult, but things that might seem very small like sitting and breathing deeply, playing “I spy” with your child or even sharing a walk or a snuggle can make a difference. Over time, these small steps can build our resilience and our children’s by strengthening the skills and relationships that help us cope. And our communities can build resilience too by providing services and opportunities to help all families thrive. Supports like these help build a strong foundation for developing brain architecture so the earlier we can provide them, the better. But the brain is capable of change throughout life and it’s never too late for a tune-up. Coping with and healing from toxic stress takes a lot of effort and support, but we all need the help of others in difficult times and building resilience and strengthen our families and communities is one of the most important investments we can make as a society. In the end, it will help all of us become the parents that we want to be.

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>> Lindsey Ramsey: Wow. That video I feel like is always so encouraging and impacting, whenever you think about all the work that we do as caregivers and parents and that how it truly supports our children and ultimately, our community. Right now, we’re going to take a little bit about our cycle of learning for young children and it also involves the community a little bit too. In order to learn any skill, children first need to become interested in learning the skill then, to engage their own brain circuits in doing the skill. Lastly, they need to develop self-confidence in doing the skill so they are willing to repeat it thousands of times to develop strong brain circuits. And whenever I say thousands of times, it really takes many, many times over and over again to make that strong circuit connection and build that skill. With that being said, a child needs interest, engagement and self-confidence to support their learning cycle and they can’t do that without us. They can’t do that without their parents, without their caregivers, without the people who support their lives within their communities. So you see that little one in the picture, she’s right there in the center and circling her self-confidence, interest and engagement. And those are all things that are supporting her and building her skills. And through that, she has to have trust in her caregivers, right? She has to have love. She has to have patience, support, care, stability, all those things to help support her. And right there at the bottom, you see a power strip and whenever we look at that power strip we want to think of that as our community and how our children plug in whenever they’re feeling drained or even us when we’re feeling drained, plug into the support of their community to help recharge them. So our community spaces, our schools, our community programs, our doctors, our coaches, they’re all part of our support system that help us charge up whenever we’re feeling low. And we call those charging stations. Again, those are the people, places, and things we can go within our community to receive support and guidance and brings us comfort through our developmental journey. Parents, you don’t have to worry about being the only one to provide the support for your child because there are plenty of people around us who help support development within our community. Whether it be your best friend, a teacher, or a coach, anybody has the ability to encourage and support our child’s learning journey. So let’s take a moment to think, what are some supportive actions that we can take within our charging stations, within our community to ensure children are engaged, interested and building self-confidence in their learning cycle? And while you guys are thinking, Cristina, do you have any supporting actions that you do within your charging station, within the work that you do to support a child’s learning cycle?

>> Cristina Codario: Well, I think that in our roles at Trying Together, we advocate for children and families every day. So you know, doing things like this training for example, trying to support children and families and really just enjoying, advocating through our different Early Learning PA campaigns and supporting things like Start Strong PA and giving parents and families a space to share their stories is really important.

>> Lindsey Ramsey: Thanks for sharing that, Cristina. That is a huge part of supporting our communities and a child’s learning cycle as well. And whether it be big or small, it can be something like just cheering a child on at one of their sports games or, you know, sending a quick smile or a high-five for encouragement. It all has to do with supporting our children and it is all needed within our communities. Here, we have some information for another place that we would like to think of as a charging station, which is our ELRC Region 5, our Early Learning Resource Center. It provides a single point-of-contact for Allegheny County families, and early learning service providers and communities to gain information and access services that support high-quality childcare in early learning programs. A caregiver’s role in development. So I’m sure at this point in our training you probably have a great understanding now of all the support and all the things that you can do to help support a child’s development. And as a caregiver, you serve as a charging station in every single way, in every interaction that you have with the child. Being a positive support is always a way to support the learning process for the children in your care. So here are some actions that help facilitate supportive learning environments for young children. And the first one being developmentally appropriate practices. Whenever we are interacting with children, we want to make sure that we are so intentional with all the activities and interactions that we have with them because we want to focus on the whole child, be able to meet them at their level of development. So we want to have these developmentally appropriate practices to help encourage their learning and help build their confidence in the process. Again, we talked about serve and return, that back and forth intentional communication between a child that helps support their learning and you might not even think of it as a lesson but it really actually is communication, ongoing communication and meaningful communication. Culturally responsive environments. Our communities are diverse places. The spaces that children encounter and learn are diverse and we need to help them guide their way through acknowledging the spaces that they’re in and learning that everybody is special, different and important. So having those culturally responsive environments, whether it just be having pictures about diversity in your classroom, or reading books about diversity, or having special presentations in the classroom, or having any interaction that permits the differences of others within their environments is a really crucial piece to helping them learn and grow. And family and community partnerships. You know, at Trying Together, we all try together with each person in our community to support the needs of all of our children and families. So it’s important that we all come together. Parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, the whole charging station and all support systems to be able to partner together and help support children and support our community. And health and safety. Children need healthy and safe spaces to ensure that their development keeps on growing and they’re not experiencing too much trauma and too much toxic stress. We want to make sure that spaces are safe for children and they feel that comfort in their environment. And lastly but one of the most important things is play. At Trying Together, we love play. Children need to be able to play within their environments because children learn through play. Even though it doesn’t seem like a lesson, all those interactions and experiences they’re having is really, really making those circuits strong for them and they are learning and they are growing throughout the process.

>> Cristina Codario: Yep. And we just want to say that especially now, even though we’re talking about brain development, that play is the work of early childhood, right? That it is not — like Lindsey said, let’s not overthink it. They are doing work when they’re playing. They’re building brain circuits. When they’re doing that communication with you, that’s serve and return. When they’re playing, when they’re just like stacking blocks on top of each other, all that is hard work for them, those are the hard things for kids. So we don’t want them to be sitting at desks doing math problems. We want them to play and create and build their little environment. That is the work of early childhood the way that Fred Rogers said. So with that, we want to bring it back to what we love as well as brain development is advocacy. So these are the campaigns that we work on here at Trying Together and we want to encourage you to join them and to find ways to share your stories as parents and caregivers. One is Start Strong PA where you can advocate for high-quality child care. That’s You can also look at Pre-K for PA where you can really look at the increased access to high-quality pre-k. That’s probably the one that most people know about because it’s been around the longest. There’s also Childhood Begins at Home which advocates for evidence-based home visiting. Home visiting is where they work with you on the parenting skills. They can work with you really on the maternal and child health. It depends on which model you work with but you can find out more about that at And there are many different models throughout the State of PA and in Southwestern PA. And yeah, it’s a really interesting program and again works with a lot of parents and caregivers. And a lot more to learn at all three of their sites or you can go to the Early Learning PA which covers all three campaigns at Early Learning PA or you can support our Public Policy Agenda which is, you know, going to cover all three of these and more about increasing access to high-quality child care.


>> Lindsey Ramsey: For more resources from Trying Together, here are couple of websites you can visit which is our Allegheny Child Care. It could help you navigate and find child care services. Our Early Learning Resource Center, ELRC Region 5, the Homewood Early Learning Hub and Family Support Center which provides amazing community support and amazing programs for our community in Homewood, and our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, DAP series which you can see at our website and all those links are listed there below. And share your feedback. Please, please, please, fill out the survey to receive a DAP series card via mail and give us our feedback on how this presentation went for you and all your takeaways you got.

>> Cristina Codario: And there’s our contact information. I’m Cristina Codario. You can always reach out to me via email,

>> Lindsey Ramsey: And I’m Lindsey Ramsey. You could reach out to me at

>> Cristina Codario: Well, thank you for participating in this session. There are number of other sessions available on the Parenting Together Pathway website for you to view. Additionally, there are a few resources that Trying Together provides to families. There is Allegheny Child Care. If you are a caregiver seeking child care for early learning, after school, out of school, summer camp and virtual programs, you can use this tool to search all available spots in Allegheny County. As we mentioned, there is also the Early Learning Resource Center Region 5. Families can utilize the ELRC to gain information services that support high-quality child care and early learning programs. As Lindsey mentioned, there is the Homewood Early Learning Hub and Family Center. Families in Homewood or surrounding areas can utilize the hub and family center for activities for their children and individual and group support for parents. And the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, DAP series utilize the developmentally appropriate parenting series on the Trying Together website to navigate a variety of topics to early childhood with new contact added throughout the year. As part of DAP series, families can opt in to receive cards with helpful information mailed directly to them as they are developed to enroll in this program and provide feedback on Parenting Together Pathway series. You can visit the link on that screen that we listed before.

>> Lindsey Ramsey: Thank you, everybody for joining us for the Beautiful Brain training and we hope that you understand how important your role is in your child’s development.

Parenting Together Pathway

The Parenting Together Pathway is a video-based learning series to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas.

Learn more about the series.



Image: An early learning professional works with a young student to put together a puzzle of a young boy.
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