As summer winds down and kids start filling desks and lining hallways at school, it’s a good time to talk about child development. And while this year is the first year that all children will have access to all-day kindergarten, I’m also reminded that not all children arrive to school ready to learn. In fact, getting a healthy start begins long before kids step onto a school bus. As a mom and pediatrician, I know that healthy development and school readiness occur well before children are reading and writing. They occur in those early years, as children are beginning to experience all of their firsts – first smile, first word, first step.
As advocates for children, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota recognizes that health and wellness play a critical role in being ready to learn and that we have a part to play in helping children get a strong start – not only in school but in all areas of life.
We have embarked on an even more deliberate focus on early childhood development, and know that it’s the earliest years in life when the most difference can be made. Consider:
- Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by age 3.
- In early childhood, physical, cognitive, emotional and social development occurs at a rate that far exceeds any other stage of human life. This has a significant impact on long-term health and wellness.
- Toxic stress – including poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, exposure to violence and the absence of attentive caregivers – can be devastating to an infant’s developing brain, thus setting children far behind before they’ve had a chance to start.
Given the obstacles to healthy child development, we at Children’s decided we needed to venture beyond our walls to address these issues and work with others engaged in protecting the health and well-being of children. We’ve engaged in an effort to build greater awareness about the importance of a child’s development in the earliest years and are working towards identifying collaborative methods to reach more children at this critical time in life.
Every day, I have the privilege to care for children when they are sick and to support ways to make them healthy. And that includes engaging in and elevating the discussion around the value of investments in programs that give kids the start in life that they deserve; please join us.
Read more about the importance of early childhood development and our investment in our children. Read our paper, “Foundation for Life: The Significance of Birth to Three,” to learn more about our efforts.
Gigi Chawla, MD, is senior medical director of primary care for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.