Events & News

Does poverty threaten brain power?


            When she was in fifth grade, “Kay” wanted to be in the band. Students took a music test. Kay did not pass the test. She was told she could not be in band and would never be able to learn to read music. But in junior high she was allowed to be in the choir and in ninth grade became a member of the Robed Choir at her school She had learned to read music. It wasn’t that she couldn’t. It was that she had never been exposed to it.

            It has been known for a long time that the first three years of human life is vital to children’s growth and development. They are like sponges, soaking up every bit of information they can about life around them, curious about their world, not wanting to slow down for a moment because they don’t want to miss a thing. And their activity can challenge the grown-ups who need to be challenging them in positive, enriching ways.

            Now come researchers who advise that poverty affects brain development. This is a major concern because, in the United States today, one in five children live in poverty. Children living in poverty, they say, have less gray matter, are slowed in brain development.

            But it seems that 19 billionaires could beg to differ on that point, men and women who were born into poverty, people like Leonardo del Vecchio who became a leader in the manufacture of sunglasses and prescription eyeglasses, Ralph Lauren and Oprah Winfrey.

            “Poverty is strongly associated with a number of risk factors implicated in poor developmental outcomes in behavioral studies, such as unsupportive parenting, poor nutrition and education, lack of caregiver education and high eves of traumatic and stressful life events, making the income to needs ratio a good proxy for cumulative developmental stress,” says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

            First Things First ( states that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops between birth and age 5.

            “The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape how their brain develops,” according to the site’s article about brain development in children. It is important to talk to your child, sing, read and play with your child. Provide good opportunities for growth and skills building, exploring their world in positive environments where they are safe.

            Says FTF, “Poverty, exposure to family violence, and lack of access to quality early learning experiences can negatively impact a child’s early brain development, and, subsequently, their long-term success.”

            What does all of this mean for parents and caregivers? Studying the world that you and your children populate – walking in your neighborhood, prodding puddles after a rain, planting seeds to see how long it takes to grow something, going fishing, to the zoo or story time at the library, playing with other children at the park, finger painting, puppet play. There are so many things that you can share that are fun while inspiring learning and encouraging children to explore their worlds and develop a keen sense of curiosity and creativity to last a lifetime.

            There is a child inside of all of us. Invite your inner child to play.

Back to News

Support Meetings