Training Brains: Preschool years crucial for child's development

Published on Saturday, 22 February 2014 21:42 - Written by Danny Mogle

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Nothing makes Jackie Cannon angrier than the thought of young children in day care who are not being nurtured with enriching activities.

“Those children cannot speak up for themselves. They can’t complain that, ‘all I did was sit in a crib all day,’” Ms. Cannon said. “They have to have a voice. … They have to have experts speak up for them.”

A former public school administrator with a master’s degree in education, she knows preschool years are one of the most crucial times for brain development and learning. She said children who do not receive stimulation often begin school academically and socially behind their peers and sometimes never catch up.

As the new executive director of Smith County Champions for Children, its Ms. Cannon’s mission to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“When they offered me this job, I was so excited because I would have the chance to go to bat for children,” said Ms. Cannon, who joined the staff in January. “The first five years of life are so important.”

To better equip parents and child care providers with the ability to help children achieve their full potential, the nonprofit holds training classes for day care employees, learning and behavioral-intervention programs and stocks a resource room with lesson plans, toys and educational products that build language skills and stimulate the cognitive centers in a child’s brain.



Champions for Children’s programs include Brain Gym, Red Bear Project and Nurturing Pathways.

Brain Gym uses a specific pattern of movements and exercises that train the brain and body to work together, which in turn improves coordination and concentration.

The Red Bear Project gives children, who misbehave in child care settings and struggle to keep up with their peers, the skills needed to control behavior and make a successful transition to elementary school.

Nurturing Pathways is a program for children up to age 3 that uses movement and music to enhance brain development.



Although Champions for Children has been around since 1996, many people still do not know it exists. Ms. Cannon said increasing education programs and community outreach efforts are among her highest priorities.

One of Champions’ biggest events is the Brighter Future Symposium set for Monday in the library at The University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, an author of “The Whole Brain Child,” will speak on “Developing Kids’ Minds and Integrating Their Brain.”

Geared to teachers, early childhood professionals, behavioral specialists, social workers and counselors, her presentation will focus on the importance of activities that develop the brains of children.

The symposium begins with registration at 8:30 a.m. More information is available by calling 903-592-1454.

Champions will hold an open house from 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. on March 7 at its headquarters, 4883 Hightech Drive, in Tyler.

The open house will provide an opportunity for daycare directors and workers and others to meet the staff and board and learn about the resources available to them.

“We want people to know that we are here and we can help,” Ms. Cannon said.