Kids’ First Year’s Advice to Parents: Start with “The Basics”

By Joanna Kauffmann and Sara Hunt

Alexandria, VA – The first five years of a child’s life are full of discovery as they begin to explore the people and places that make up their world. As a result, parents, caregivers, and other close family play an important role beyond only providing essential needs. Encouraging a child’s natural curiosity and supporting their development leads to further growth – and doing so should be easy and fun.

That’s the premise behind The Basics, an initiative developed by early childhood experts at Harvard University that has made its way to Alexandria. In partnership with The Basics, Inc., Alexandria organization Kids’ First Years (KFY) introduces The Basics Principles to families and organizations throughout the city.

Five Simple, Powerful Principles

There have been few resources for children 0-5 and their families, despite scientific research that shows 80% of brain growth happens during these years. The Basics is designed to close that gap by offering parents ways to promote their child’s learning all day, every day, without relying on a formal education model or expensive gadgets. Instead, The Basics focuses on five principles to help children thrive:

· Maximize Love and Manage Stress

· Talk, Sing, and Point

· Count, Group, and Compare

· Explore Through Movement and Play

· Read and Discuss Stories.

“Every parent from every background can make a positive difference in their child’s life,” says Ron Ferguson, Ph.D., founder and president of The Basics, Inc. “A few simple, everyday activities can make a big difference.”

It’s the focus on accessibility and simplicity that makes The Basics such a powerful tool. “Parents are their child’s first teacher,” says Lori Morris, a member of the KFY workgroup. She spearheaded the effort to bring The Basics to Alexandria. “Offering parents ways to promote their child’s learning is one way we can support our youngest residents. The Basics requires no fancy toys or special talents. It reminds us of things we can all do while shopping, cooking, driving – anytime.”

Weekly Texts of Helpful Tips, Fun Activities


In addition to providing tips and activities on its website, KFY is making it even easier for parents to remember to incorporate The Basics into family life. Basics Insights is a text messaging program that sends weekly facts and suggested activities tied to one of The Basics Principles.

Here’s how it works:

· Each week until the child turns five, Basics Insights sends two text messages which are personalized and age-appropriate based on information provided on the signup form.

· On Mondays, parents will receive an evidence-based fact about their child’s development, tied to one of the five principles of The Basics.

· On Wednesdays, parents receive a suggestion for a fun activity to boost their child’s learning. The activity aligns with the principle in the text on Monday.

The messages serve as reminders and sources of new ideas for parents to connect with their little ones. Early adopters of the program already see its impact.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” said one parent who signed up for the text message alerts. “It’s amazing to be reminded of simple things that your kids can enjoy and learn from, which is the most important thing.”

Embracing The Basics in Alexandria

Alexandria community organizations that have been early adopters of the program echo the sentiment. “The Basics is a great resource for parents,” said Diane Smalley, owner of Creative Play Schools. “I recommend it to toddler parents when they enroll because it has wonderful activities and ideas to engage parents in their toddler’s development.”

Giselle Pelaez, Executive Director of The Center for Alexandria’s Children, agrees. “We’ve been able to use [the Basics] to supplement our existing Learn & PlayGroup Curriculum for pre-school children and focus on tips for our very youngest Alexandria residents and their parents. These gentle and fun reminders have a huge and lasting impact on kids’ learning and, more important, encourage and empower parents as their children’s first teachers.”

As The Basics grow into an international movement, KFY continues its focus on local expansion. “The goal is for everyone to see information about supporting 0-5-year-olds wherever they are in the community, from bus stops to libraries to store windows,” Morris says. “We want to create a movement where every adult, every business, every parent and grandparent has The Basics on their mind as they interact with our city’s little ones. We are just getting started.”

For more information on The Basics or to sign up for Basics Insights, visit .

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