Community Connections: Helping parents and children thrive | SteamboatToday.com

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Community Connections: Helping parents and children thrive

Impacting lives when brain development is key. This is what we do at the Family Development Center. Our mission is to help parents be the best parents they can be and to grow competent, confident, and caring children.

Did you know that over 80 percent of all brain development happens by the time a child is 5 years old? If you are a parent, or a grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor of a child under the age of 5, you have an incredible opportunity to impact that child's life.

Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which lays the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. In the first few years of life, 700 to 1,000 new neural connections are formed every second.

If that child is newborn to 36 months, one of the prime concepts for brain development is the reciprocal relationship. Think of this as a "serve-and-return" game of tennis. The adult serves the ball to the child and the child returns it. Or vice versa.

So the child coos, and the adults says "Oh, are you talking to me?" with a smile. The baby smiles and gurgles back. And so on. Can you hear those neurons growing now?

During the time from ages 3 to 5, the window for growth in executive function is wide open. Think of executive function as the "traffic control tower" for your brain. Decision making, being able to focus, planning and juggling multiple tasks successfully are all part of executive function. Adults can help children develop this area of their brain by providing routines, modeling social behaviors and creating and maintaining supportive and reliable relationships.

The Family Development Center educates and cares for young children and their families through three different programs.

Discovery Learning Center is a nationally accredited preschool and pre-kindergarten, with a sliding fee tuition scale. All of our students who graduated last year met or exceeded Colorado's school readiness standards. Of those 102 children in 2014, 37 of them benefited from scholarships at DLC with over $102,000 awarded. Those scholarships were funded by donations, Routt County United Way, Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs.

Newborn Network is a parent education network for families with children prenatal to 36 months. Our parent educators served 50 families with 68 children and their 95 parents with the nationally recognized Parents as Teachers monthly home visitation program in 2014.

The network also provided 108 families with a Colorado Bright by Three visit and conducted 91 parent education sessions (with up to 15 parents, their infants and toddlers at each group) presented by community experts (all of whom donated their time), covering 29 topic areas including brain and child development information plus lists of local resources to assist in their parenting. This programming is offered at no cost to Routt County families, due to the previously mentioned donors plus Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, CO Parent and Child Foundation and the state of Colorado.

Child Care Network works with families to find licensed child care, provides training and coaching to child care providers and assists communities in solving child care issues in four counties in Northwest Colorado. We provide technical assistance and financial support to start-up family child care homes, so call us if you'd like to explore that opportunity. These services are funded by the above sources plus First Impressions of Routt County and Qualistar Early Learning.

If you would like more information about any of our programs, check out our website at http://www.familydevelopmentcenter.org for program contact information or to volunteer for our upcoming annual fundraiser Casino Night on March 7.

Tami Havener is executive director to the Family Development Center, Discovery Learning Center and Newborn and Child Care Networks.