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The First 1000 Days

Date: January 27, 2016 Author: hpelc Categories: Educators Blog

“Strong relationships are at the foundation of healthy child development, family functioning and a flourishing society. Infant mental health is everybody’s business.”
The above statement is from an article I recently read. You can read it here: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/infant-mental-health-giving-children-the-best-head-start-1.2426966

The article focuses on the importance of the first 1000 days in a child’s life. It explores how environments and relationships come together to form a complex web of experiences that will be the beginning of a child’s story, the beginning of their life.

In my experiences in early education, I’ve heard it a million times. The first five years are critical for a child. Their brain is busy connecting all the dots, forming new pathways, retaining information, developing thoughts and theories and powering the child’s body and development the best it can.
This is the first time, for me, that I’ve heard the focus being on the first three years. When I first read this article I thought, “But I can’t even remember the first three years of my life.” My first memories are probably of age four or five, eating watermelon at day care, giggling at the juices dripping down my arms, while I was surrounded by the teachers and the other children on a giant mat.

We often focus on children’s wellbeing, particularly their mental wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing. As parents, adults and caregivers to the precious children in our lives, we know the warning signs or the things to look out for, when we need to be concerned for a child.

But what about preventative measures? Giving children the BEST start we possibly can? What do the first 1000 days mean?

The article features a Professor, named Kevin Nugent. He was recently in Ireland for a conference on Psychological Society of Ireland, and for whom early child development is a core advocacy issue.

Advocacy is a word Handprints is very familiar with. Each educator has an advocacy role, and it’s something that I haven’t seen before in child care. It’s something I have written and reflected about in my previous blog posts for Handprints, and it’s something that has become a stronger flame in my heart, with Julia’s mentoring she helped me discover I already had this passion for children’s rights and she has helped me foster it.

It is something that I tend to struggle with in regards to the babies, or to the younger children. It seems easier to explore and discuss rights with older children, particularly in the sense of their bodies, their choices and their rights to food, shelter and love. This article that I read, however, helped me reflect upon advocating for rights for babies, and for them to have a great first 1000 days.

Nugent states:
“Brain development in the first three years of life is more extensive, more vulnerable to environmental influences and has a longer-term impact than was previously thought,”
So I wonder what this means for our children at Handprints?

I think it’s not just keeping children away from experiences of neglect or hardship, and providing them with food and shelter like we know they need, I think it has more of a community responsibility feel to it.

When we think about our philosophy at Handprints, we respect each person’s individual journey, past, present and future. This is evident in our passion to welcome all types of people, focus on their skills and what they bring to the table, and support them in times of challenge. Our educators are all individual and we have our own unique strengths and weaknesses. What sets us on the path to success, is how we embrace this. Educators who don’t have a strength for documenting have experienced such success and growth over the past year. Educators who struggle to mediate confrontations or difficult situations with children, have adapted successful strategies and learnt to develop strengths. Educators who previously found it difficult to challenge children and drive their motivation, have explored ideas and found new professional understandings.

Our families have unique journeys too. Whether it is where they’ve come from, moving countries, taking on new jobs, expanding their families, having to deal with challenging circumstances… each family has had their own journey.

Then we think about the children. Those who have lots of people in their lives, lots of instruction from adults, or those who have few people in their lives and suddenly at Handprints, their world grows. Making new friends, having arguments about toys and ideas, going through all the emotional and physical changes growing up. Their journey is unique too.

Bringing all this uniqueness and all these individual journeys back to the article, I share with you, this piece of information:
“For the child to develop well psychologically, socially and emotionally, the relationship with the parent or primary carer is important. This interaction enables the development of the capacity to regulate emotions, form secure attachments, explore the environment, learn and develop cognitive capacities across the lifespan.”

Relationships. That’s what binds it all together. Part of our passion at Handprints is these relationships. The trust you give us when you hand your child over at the beginning of the day means everything to us. That we can help your child, settle them, take them to the yard to wave goodbye as you drive past… all of this, this connection from the beginning of the pass over, to when you pick them up at the beginning of the day, is so vital. The child sees this. They see that you have trust in us, they see that you have faith in us, they see that our relationships, between educators and parents, is important to you, and us. They see this. This is why our focus on positive interactions with not just the child, but also you, as their primary care givers, is so important to us, and our industry.

We are together. We are all raising families, future scientists, mathematicians, magicians, singers, writers, artists, activists, theorists, philosophers, you name it – they could be it.

The article continues with:
“Children are our most precious national resource; they are the living messages to a time we will not see, and new scientific advances are showing the crucial importance of the foundation years and especially the first 1,000 days from conception until age two as a springboard for neuro-cognitive development, life-long health and wellbeing and socioeconomic success”.

That first 1000 days. Who knows what it could involve! What is important is to remember that a sense of community, a focus on positive interaction, developing relationships, working through problems, asking for help, sharing your thoughts… all of it contributes. The child sees it all.