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Boosting Babies’ Brain Development

Kaiser Permanente works to improve community health through support of the Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing Campaign.

Kaiser Permanente has joined a host of business and community leaders in support of a new campaign designed to boost the brain development of Oakland’s youngest residents. The campaign titled Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing was launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at an Oakland event on July 23, and was shared with parents and children at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland the following day.

The campaign will include television, radio, and billboard ads directed at parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers that highlight simple actions such as describing things you might see while riding the bus, asking children questions, singing songs, reading aloud, and telling them stories. Researchers say these actions can significantly improve a baby’s ability to build vocabulary and boost brain development.

Talking is Teaching is an effort of several organizations including Kaiser Permanente, Bay Area Council, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, and Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and Next Generation.

Bert Lubin, MD, and Jorge Gutierrez, MD, introduce the campaign to a crowd of parents at Children’s Fairlyand in Oakland.

Jorge Gutierrez, MD, Kaiser Permanente Oakland assistant physician in chief for Pediatrics, and Bert Lubin, MD, president and CEO of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, announced the new campaign to a crowd of families gathered at an outdoor stage at the Fairyland event.

In an interview before the announcement, Dr. Gutierrez explained that kids who have family members who read, sing, and talk to them learn more words.

“The more words they know, the more success they have in school, and there’s a snowball effect where success breeds more success and confidence,” he said.

Helping Children Develop to Their Full Capability

According to recent field research, less than half of low-income parents and caregivers in Oakland report reading to their children every day, and even fewer report talking about their day and singing to their children. These activities have been shown to have a profound impact on the development of very young children’s brain capacity.

Dr. Lubin said 70 percent of the children seen at Children’s Hospital Oakland are from low-income families, where there are many stresses. But he said the campaign emphasizes actions that are free and easy for parents and families to do.

“Our goal is to give these children the best opportunity to be resilient, to have a healthy childhood, and to develop to their full capabilities,” he said.

Both Children’s Hospital Oakland and Kaiser Permanente Oakland will distribute a Talking is Teaching toolkit produced by the makers of Sesame Street to the parents of babies and toddlers. Parents will also learn how to sign up for Text4Baby, a free mobile health service that sends pregnant women and new moms regular reminders about the importance of talking, reading, and singing to young children.

“A significant number of Oakland’s babies are born at Kaiser Permanente hospitals each year,” said Janet Liang, chief operating officer, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “We recognize the role early childhood development plays in an individual’s health later in life. By providing the Talking is Teaching tools to Oakland families, we’re making a strong investment in the community’s health.”

‘Awesome’ Campaign

The campaign also includes a new clothing line for babies and toddlers that was showcased at the Fairlyland event: T-shirts, onesies, and receiving blankets covered with colorful conversation starters and questions a parent might ask a child.

Symphani Lindsey’s 2-year-old daughter tries on one of the T-shirts from the Talking is Teaching campaign.

Symphani Lindsey came to Fairyland with her husband and three children. She said she talks, sings, or reads to her kids every day. She said a campaign that encourages other parents to do the same “would be awesome.”

“Kids are like sponges,” she said. “It’s great that they’re going to spread the word throughout the community.”

Learn more about the campaign at talkreadsing.org.