Just say it: Words matter in building baby’s brain

  • Baby Brain Builders President Angela Mills, right, gives one of the organization’s bags to a local resident recently. The nonprofit organization encourages parents and caregivers to talk to their babies and sound out words.
    Baby Brain Builders President Angela Mills, right, gives one of the organization’s bags to a local resident recently. The nonprofit organization encourages parents and caregivers to talk to their babies and sound out words.

Thanksgiving is a time for each one of us to pause for a few minutes to reflect on our blessings.

This year, I’m especially thankful for my wife and our two children. I’m also thankful for a baby boy who is expected to arrive in January and make me a granddad for the first time.

We’ll figure out what he’ll call me soon enough. I will vote against grandpa. Heck, I’m not that old yet.

But speaking of babies and being thankful, there is one organization in Putnam County that is a true blessing for new parents – Baby Brain Builders.

I’ve written about the nonprofit group in this space before and its important mission. Baby Brain Builders wants to reach new parents and caregivers with this message: Talking to babies and encouraging their sounds and word formation will eventually build their brains and give them a better foundation for success throughout their future.

“Babies’ brains develop the most between 0 and 3 years old,” said Baby Brain Builders President Angela Mills. “That doesn’t mean they won’t continue to learn more, but that their brain is ready to learn and grow.

“We just want to teach and encourage parents to talk to their babies. If they’re missing that opportunity for growth, their children are already behind when they get to pre-kindergarten. We want to give our children the opportunity to be as successful as they possibly can.”

Mills launched Baby Brain Builders in Putnam County last year. She modeled it after a similar program she had seen while living in Pensacola.

The organization unveiled a locally written and illustrated book, “The ABCs of Putnam County,” in August 2019. The plan was to give new mothers a bag containing the book and other information encouraging them to turn off their devices and tune in to their child.

Mills had big plans for the organization’s continued growth in 2020. Then came the pandemic.

“Every event we had planned was canceled,” Mills said. “We weren’t able to visit hospitals because of the pandemic and were unable to meet in large groups.

“We started meeting with caregivers one on one, reaching out to people we know and doing it safely. We are trying to stay positive and keep going, but it’s definitely made it a lot more challenging.”

But through the pandemic challenges, Baby Brain Builders also found hope and a gift for which it was extremely thankful.

A $10,000 grant from the Frank V. Oliver Jr. Endowment at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida helped the organization train volunteers on teaching caregivers about the importance of talking to their babies.

Shann Purinton and Qatresha Champagne are co-chairwomen for the training committee, working with Mills to help get the word out in Putnam County about the program.

Baby Brain Builder is also delivering “The ABCs of Putnam County” to all pre-K programs in the Putnam County School District.

“We’ve been very blessed that we got this grant,” Mills said, “and we’ve had other individuals and organizations who have donated.”

With the grant and other contributions, Baby Brain Builders has donated the book, “30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain,” to each library in the county. “The ABCs of Putnam County” book is also available at each library.

“We’re just trying to do anything we can to get information out to people and give our babies a hand-up in our community,” Mills said. “There’s a lot of research that shows children who hear 30 million words by the time they are three have a so much better chance of doing well in school.

“And it’s not 30 million different words. It can be the same words used many, many times. It’s just talking more to their baby.”

Mills said she is happy to meet with new parents in a safe place to provide them with the free bag of materials. 

Email her at babybrainbuildersinc@gmail.com. You can also like Baby Brain Builders Inc. on Facebook and get directed to the group’s website.

Even though planned events and hospital visits have been canceled this year, Mills said she has still given away nearly 100 bags. And she has been met with gratitude from those she has reached.

“Always,” Mills said. “I don’t think I’ve had one negative response. People will say the bag is a treasure or, ‘I can’t believe you’re giving it to me.’ We want to get back in the situation where we’re contacting more parents when it is safe to get back into bigger groups and training sessions.”

Mills gave our daughter one of the bags last week. Contact Mills to get one if someone you know is expecting and literally get the word out.

Speaking of words, I do wonder what that new grandbaby will call me. Pops? Smithy? Papa Bear? Ol’ Wayne?

I’ll keep you posted.


Wayne Smith is the editor of the Palatka Daily News. His email is wsmith@palatkadailynews.com.