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Jenna Bush Hager: Why I love reading to baby Mila

Education Nation is NBC News' year-round initiative to engage the country in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America. Marking the fourth annual Education Nation Summit, TODAY correspondent and new mom Jenna Bush Hager explains why she reads to her 5-month-old infant and discusses the importance of early reading. Read more about Education Nation here.

Before I became a mother, I thought I knew a lot about children. Then Mila came along, and I’ve been learning ever since. What a joy and what a journey. It is an incredible experience to watch her grow and develop.

Babies are born ready to learn — and do so quickly and constantly. It’s amazing to me that by the time Mila is 3, her brain will be 80 percent developed. By age 5, it will be 90 percent. Learning begins right away for babies, so I want to make sure Mila has the early education opportunities I know will get her off to the best possible start.

I love reading to Mila, and even at 5 months old, I’m pretty sure she loves it, too. When she’s old enough to go to preschool, I will make sure it continues to stimulate her development, imagination and a love of books.

Since I became a mom, I’ve learned how important it is to expose young children early and often to reading, conversation and interactions with adults and other children. And I’ve learned how high-quality early education programs give our little ones a much better chance to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. I know how blessed my family is.

Yet so many families across America aren’t as lucky as we are. More than 40 percent of children in the United States haven’t had any preschool education at all by the time they reach 5, and poor children are the most likely to miss out. It is unfair that children already facing a variety of disadvantages in life have less of a chance to succeed in school because they start kindergarten already behind their peers.

I just met another mom whose story reinforced for me just how important it is to give more kids this chance. Tabitha “Tabby” Neal traveled from her town in rural West Virginia to New York last week to present an award to actress Jennifer Garner at a gala benefiting Save the Children. (I was the event's emcee).

Tabitha Neal, a mom in rural West Virginia, and her daughter, Serenity Putney, benefited from Save the Children's early learning program. The duo presented an award to actress Jennifer Garner at a gala for the charity in New York City last week. Billy Farrell/ / Today

Tabby told me that her own daughter, Serenity Putney, has benefited from Save the Children’s home visiting program. When the visits first began, Tabby’s toddler could only make a few sounds. Not being able to communicate left Serenity frustrated and even a little aggressive. The home visitor worked closely with Tabby and Serenity on building communication skills and referred them to additional specialized services.

Today, thanks to Tabby's hard work and Save the Children’s early learning program, Serenity is communicating with words and is even beginning to string sentences together. A once scary future now seems much brighter.

When you reach out to help parents and young children, you can’t go wrong. And from an economic standpoint, you can’t go wrong either: an investment in early childhood education pays off for years to come.

Motherhood opens your heart and vision to an experience that links you to every other person in the world. Parents everywhere share similar hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears for their children. Early education is the key to those dreams — learning from the very beginning of life can lead to a lifetime of good things, including the chance to shape a better world. It’s what I wish for Mila, for Serenity, and for every child.