It is now well-recognised by health professionals and the education sector that brain growth and development is most rapid during the first 1,000 days (from conception to age 2).
What is the First 2,000 Days?
NSW Health (the public health system in New South Wales, Australia) has decided to extend beyond the first 1,000 days and focus on the first 2,000 days. The first 2,000 days is the period from conception to age 5.
All the principles of the first 1,000 days are still important, such as a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and good infant nutrition, but high-quality pre-school education is an additional part of the first 2,000 days. Early life experiences during this time determines how children learn at school and their social behaviours.
A child’s early life experiences will have long-lasting effects on their health and wellbeing. The first 2,000 days may also predict physical health as adults or older adults, such as obesity, blood pressure, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
How does the first 2000 days affect how a child performs at school?
A child’s development when they start school, including social and emotional skills, is a strong predictor of their future educational performance or success at school in later years. Australian research shows that a child that is ‘behind’ on their development when they start school may not be able to catch up to other children. James Heckman, an American economist and Nobel prize winner, believes that once children fall behind in their learning, they will stay behind.
“A child’s development at just 22 months of age is a powerful predictor of their educational outcomes at 26 years of age.”The First 2000 Days Framework (NSW Health, 2019)
In NSW (Australia), approximately 1 in 5 (20.2%) of children starting their first year of school are developmentally vulnerable on one or more of the AEDC ‘domains’. The AEDC (Australian Early Development Census) is an Australian Government initiative which provides a national measurement for early childhood development. There are five important areas (called ‘domains’) of early childhood development:
- Physical health and wellbeing
- Social competence
- Emotional maturity
- Language and cognitive skills
- Communication skills and general knowledge.
Under the first 2,000 days framework, it is recommended that children complete 600 hours (15 hours a week) of high-quality early childhood (preschool) education in the year before they start school (3-4 years old). Research shows that the skills and behaviours they learn during preschool education stay with them throughout their school years and has been shown to significantly improve their health and wellbeing.
So, it’s important that parents or carers don’t rely or wait on teachers or schools to fix or improve gaps in a child’s development or learning. It’s crucial to invest in the early years; invest in education and care before your child starts school. After all, parents, grandparents, families and carers are a child’s first, and most important, teachers.
How can I support my child’s learning and development?
There are many ways parents and carers can support children’s development before they start school. The AEDC has one-page fact sheets about ways adults can support each of the five early childhood development domains.
- Supporting your child’s physical health and wellbeing
- Supporting your child’s social development
- Supporting your child’s emotional development
- Supporting your child’s language and cognitive development
- Supporting your child’s communications skills
There are other online resources to help parents support childhood development and improve learning.