We must recognize that success in education, work and life begins in the earliest years.

Over the course of my career, I’ve cared for more than 25,000 children in my private practice, provided guidance and support to thousands of parents and caregivers across the country, and fought on Capitol Hill for parental leave and for special needs children under age three.

The message I most often emphasize to parents and caregivers is this: listen to the baby. Babies have so much they can tell us if we just know how to listen.

Consider that a child from a high-income family will hear 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family. This word gap continues to widen as children start elementary school, when it becomes a literacy gap. The amount of conversation children hear from birth through age three directly affects their academic success.

Babies lacking high-quality care and learning opportunities fall behind quickly — even before pre-kindergarten. As a result, they must spend their preschool experience playing catch-up rather than forging ahead. High-quality care and supports can set babies and toddlers on the path to becoming confident learners, productive workers and well-adjusted adults. What better investment is there than that?

It’s time for us to prioritize babies and their families and make the necessary investments so that high quality supports and services are available to anyone who needs them. We must recognize that success in education, work and life begins in the earliest years.

The good news is that President Obama is listening to babies and their parents. In his new initiative, Preschool for All, the president invests in babies — especially those most at-risk — as a top priority in his budget.

For the critical years from birth to age three, the president’s initiative provides comprehensive support for the most vulnerable families. It creates more high-quality child care options for working parents, using Early Head Start’s proven benchmarks, expertise and resources. The plan also funds critical home visiting services so that nurses, social workers and other trained professionals can connect new parents with information and services that improve child health and development. The proposal makes high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds in low- and moderate-income families.

As I celebrate my 95th birthday, I find myself reflecting on the joyous career I’ve led caring and advocating for children, remembering where our country has been and believing in the progress we can still make. I believe that the president is taking an important step toward ensuring a healthy future for our country by proposing this investment in babies and young children. Now we need Congress to step forward and make the investment a reality.

When we listen to babies and support their social and emotional development, we can realize the great potential for success that lies ahead. Our youngest children deserve to have a solid foundation and step into their first classrooms ready to learn, succeed in life and take on the world.

T. Berry Brazelton, MD, is clinical professor emeritus, pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School. He also is a founding member of Zero to Three*, a national nonprofit organization. On Monday, Zero to Three and more than 20 non-profit organizations, will hold **Rally4Babies***: Learning Happens from the Start, in support for public policies that focus on improving the lives of infants and toddlers.


By T. Berry Brazelton

Source: USA TODAY – http://goo.gl/uGWKc