Older siblings help build younger siblings' brains

Bellview Middle School students are helping younger siblings learn to read and prepare for kindergarten

Building babies’ brains is at the forefront of Studer Community Institute’s mission to improve the quality for everyone in the Pensacola area.

While parents are the key to helping babies get the best start in life, siblings can play important roles too. If parents are a child’s first teacher, then siblings could well be their best teacher.

What siblings learn from each other growing up has significant influence on social and emotional development as adults.

SCI believes the sibling relationship is a natural place for younger children to learn, develop and grow.

Through two pilot projects called Sibling Brain Builders, SCI is bringing older sisters and brothers into the cause of helping get their young siblings prepared and ready for school.

At Bellview Middle School, teacher Dee Wright is working with SCI to provide selected middle schoolers with books, tips and tools to take home and use with their younger siblings ages 0 to 5.

“It was easy to get involved and excited about this project because I understand the impact that siblings can have on each other,” said Wright. “Sibling Brain Builders help the older child as well as the younger one because both are learning new things and gaining new skills.”

Leading by example is a good way for one sibling to shine and for the others to emulate good behavior. When one sibling reads to another, the child reading aloud gets lots of oral practice especially when reading fluently and with expression. Being fluent readers helps with reading and comprehension of the story.

Jenna Myers, 12, is a Bellview 7th-grader with a baby brother. 

Jenna recalled her kindergarten teacher piqued her interest in reading, but she wished she had an older sibling who shared reading time with her. She’s excited about and eager to be a part of Sibling Brain Builders.

“It is a good idea to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten,” Jenna said. “When I first heard about it, I said, ‘Hey, that’s something I can do to help my baby brother.’”

Another sibling project is piloted with the media specialists and administrators at Lincoln Park, Montclair, O.J. Semmes and C.A. Weis elementary schools to encourage students in 3rd to 5th grades to read at home with their younger siblings.

In both projects, the older students will get credit at school for the work they do at home — and incentives to keep it up. The younger children will get more time reading with someone who loves them.

It’s been shown that siblings can encourage academic success. This is due, in part, to what is referred to as the “sibling spillover effect.”

An older brother or sister can act as a positive role model when they help their younger siblings read with them, help them with their homework or give them academic advice. Older siblings also can be instrumental in the early childhood brain of younger siblings.

Every child grows at his or her own pace, but research shows that a child’s early years are the most important time for development.

Kindergarten readiness is among the most important measures of a child’s academic progress. Children who are behind in kindergarten are more likely to be behind in third-grade reading, and they rarely catch up throughout their school careers.

Escambia County’s 2018 kindergarten readiness rate is 46 percent, which means that more than half of the nearly 3,000 kindergartners show up for school unprepared.

That's how Sibling Brain Builders can come into play because children need someone in their homes to be their reading role models with daily practice in order to navigate successfully through beginning literacy skills.

Most programs are aimed at assisting parents to develop better guidance strategies and learning opportunities but have not directly targeted siblings.

The Sibling Brain Builders is designed to encourage the sibling bonding and family connections through reading, sharing and learning.

The ultimate goal is to prepare more children for kindergarten and fulfill the mission of Studer Community Institute to improve the quality of life for everyone in this community.

Both projects are focused on improving language and literacy skills for everyone involved. We also hope it strengthens bonds between family members.

Sibling Brain Builders could use sponsors to help us offset the cost of incentives for the students participating, especially age appropriate books. If you want to help with this project, email snickinson@studeri.org





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