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Jack and Jill's climb up the hill received a rare mention at a Capitol press conference Wednesday morning, as several legislators touted a new $9 million publicity campaign to get California parents to spend more time talking, reading and singing with their children.

That kind of face-to-face interaction between parents and small children helps young brains develop and leads to greater achievement later in life, according to research promoted by First 5 California, which uses money from cigarette taxes to offer services for children up to age 5.

The agency is required to spend 6 percent of its funds on mass media efforts. It's spending $9 million on an advertising campaign that launches statewide on Thursday pushing a simple message on parents: "Talk. Read. Sing."

Several wriggly toddlers sat through the unveiling of the ad campaign Wednesday that included Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva leading the room in reciting the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme.

"Why do you remember that? Because you were taught it," said Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton.

"We have entered a decade where many of our favorite rhymes and songs have stopped being taught. We see people on their cell phones. We see people texting and they're not talking. I see moms with their strollers and they're not talking (to their children). They're talking on their phones."

Other legislators used the event to promote their bills on early childhood education. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, plugged his SB 837 which would create public preschool for all 4-year-olds at a cost of at least $1 billion a year.

"By age 3 kids born into low-income families have heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. That leaves many California children predestined for success or failure before they enter kindergarten," Steinberg said.

As he pointed to the front row of the press conference, where several parents tried to keep their children quiet with bottles and snacks, Steinberg said: "Parents, all parents, should understand that what they choose to do on a daily basis makes a huge difference. And these little ones are never too young to start learning."

PHOTO: Parents and children listen as legislators and advocates in the Capitol introduce a new ad campaign geared at them. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall



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