What’s important about Early Childhood Development?

A number of studies on early child development highlight the period from conception to age 8 as the foundational years of physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Development of these factors in early childhood is simultaneous and interconnected, and highly influenced by the environment and people in the environment.[1] For this reason, early childhood development (ECD) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECD has the potential to nurture caring, capable and responsible future members of a society. ECD is considered to be one of the best investments a country can make to promote human resource development.[2] In Dubai, about 55% of young children from birth to 6 years of age are do not attend a formal ECD setting and are in home-based care, which highlights the importance of parents in supporting and nurturing the cognitive, social and physical development of their children.

Eat, Love, Play. UNICEF identifies the first 1000 days of life, or the time spanning roughly between conception and one’s 2nd birthday, of particular importance as it is a unique period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the life span are established.[3] Nutrition is a major factor during this time. Maternal prenatal nutrition and the child’s nutrition are critical to neurodevelopment and lifelong mental health. The likelihood of obesity, hypertension and diabetes may be programmed early in life.[4]  While undernutrition remains a worldwide challenge, some populations are faced with the negative effects of “overnutrition” in the form of obesity and risky nutrition in the form of unbalanced diets or diets contaminated with potential toxins. Each of these conditions can be considered “malnutrition” with the potential to reduce brain development.

Research also shows that social interaction and caregivers’ nurturing behaviors are key environmental factors affecting brain growth. By 2 to 3 months of age, infants are able to participate in simple social interactions with others by gesturing, vocalizing and making facial expressions, which lead into engaging in shared activities with objects and toys by 6 months of age.  Caregivers’ nurturing behaviors towards during early childhood years through age 4 promote better brain development, particularly in terms of language and cognition.[5] Some studies show that warm parental care is more important than cognitive stimulation for normal brain development during early childhood years.[6]

 

To learn more about the importance of the first 1000 days of life, check out this video by UNICEF.

 

 

[1] KHDA (2009). Early Childhood Education and Care in Dubai: An Executive Summary. Retrieved from:   https://www.khda.gov.ae/CMS/WebParts/TextEditor/Documents/Early%20Childhood%20Education%20&%20Care%20-%20Executive%20Report%20-%20Eng.pdf

[2] UNESCO (2015). Investing against evidence: the global state of early childhood care and education. Retrieved from: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000233558

[3] UNICEF. The First 1000 days of Life: The Brain’s Window of Opportunity. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/958-the-first-1000-days-of-life-the-brains-window-of-opportunity.html

[4] Schwarzenberg SJ, Georgieff MK, AAP COMMITTEE ON NUTRITION. Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days To Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics. 2018;141(2):e20173716

[5] Moore C. Social Cognition in Infancy. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Zelazo PD, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/social-cognition/according-experts/social-cognition-infancy. Published July 2010. Accessed April 25, 2019.

[6] Poppi, K. (2016) Early Parental Care and Brain Development. Retrieved from: http://infantmentalhealth.com/_blog/news/post/early-parental-care-and-brain-development/

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