Nan Austin

The case for burbling, warbling, wondering aloud

In March 2015, Zaniah Campos makes a car-airplane at the Head Start program on the Martone Elementary School campus in Modesto, Calif., on March 3, 2015.
In March 2015, Zaniah Campos makes a car-airplane at the Head Start program on the Martone Elementary School campus in Modesto, Calif., on March 3, 2015. Nan Austin/Modesto Bee files

From odds and ends in the in-basket:

BABY BRAINS: Vroom just might turn baby care drudgery into the best times of the day with free tips, videos and – for the overachievers among us – downloadable worksheets on ways to build better baby brains.

The Bezos Family Foundation is funding the effort to help parents make the most of preschool years, when the greatest brain development happens.

More than 1,000 activities make the most of everyday things you already do, like having the baby flip off the light switch as you leave the room (teaches cause and effect), and having toddlers help match socks in the laundry pile by size, then color.

The app tips build on five baby play basics:

1. Look – Paying attention to where babies stare gives an insight into what interests them.

2. Follow – Doing what they do taps into their interest, and also helps build relationships. Added bonus: Big toothless smiles and high potential for goofy Facebook photos.

3. Chat – Talking with a cooing baby is not conversation as adults usually think of it, but what babies mean is often amazingly clear and pretty soon the fun outweighs the geekiness. Saying words and making sounds back helps them learn to talk. Until then, it is pretty neat to share your own secret family language.

4. Take turns – The back and forth of switching roles is a key developmental building block. On a practical level it mixes things up when baby’s fascination with doing one thing again and again outlasts yours.

5. Stretch – Try to make a learning moment last. Talk about details – sprinkle in color and size words. Make up a “what if” story about it. Ask questions about it. Added bonus: Kids really do say the darndest things (doff of the hat to Art Linkletter).

HEAD START: While on the topic of little guys, The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institute released a report Aug. 19 on “The long-term impact of the Head Start program,” the federal preschool program for poor children and kids with disabilities. It found modest gains in life outcomes for participants overall, with the greatest gains seen in minorities and the kids of high school dropouts.

The study compared children who went to Head Start with siblings who did not, a sample size of 1,439 culled from data in the massive National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a multiple-generation survey begun in 1979.

Researchers found Head Start increased high school graduation rates by more than 5 percent overall, but more than 10 percent for children of high school dropouts. Head Start grads were also 10 percent overall more likely to complete college, with Latino children 15 percent more likely.

The study went a generation further, finding Head Start participants also had stronger parenting skills, measured by number of positive interactions, like reading to the child and showing physical affection. The better school performance may in part be due to the soft-skills training of preschool in general, as well as parent training stressed in Head Start programs.

“Overall and particularly among African American participants, we find that Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development that becomes evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem, and positive parenting practices,” notes the study summary.

PRESIDENTIAL VOTES: A very cool map unveiled online by the New York Times’ The Upshot on how all the states voted (blue v. red) in presidential elections since Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a blue shellacking in 1964. Red makes a comeback in 1968 with Republican Richard Nixon.

California voted reliably Republican for decades, ending in 1992 when it went for the this year’s Democratic nominee for “first dude,” Bill Clinton.

Below the video loop clicking through the change are condensed history snippets explaining what was happening at each of the quadrennial stops. It points to Clinton’s 1992 election as “probably the most significant one since the 1960s in terms or partisan realignment,” noting Democrats had been “in the wilderness since their last White House victory in 1976 with (Jimmy) Carter.”

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