The first 1,000 days, from conception to the 2nd birthday of a child are crucial for the future of any kind of development. These days determine the progress of a child’s life, her ability to grow, learn, work, succeed and in the long run the child’s health stability, eventually the prosperity of the society in which the child lives. Whatever environment, whatever facilities and whatever stimulation the child receives base the child’s development and learning. A child is born with 100 million brain neurons. The child’s brain develops through synapses connections depends on which connects strongly and which not. Synapse strength contributes to the connectivity and efficiency of the network that support learning, memory, and other cognitive abilities. Therefore, a child’s experience not only determines what information enters her brain, but also influence how her brain processes information. A child’s senses report to the brain about her environment and experiences and this input stimulates neural activity. Speech sounds, for example, stimulate activity in language-related brain regions. If the amount of input increases (if more speech is heard) synapses between neurons in that area will be activated more often and on the other hand, it declines when the child is ignored.
In the period of 0-3 age 80% of the brain develops and it develops as a result of positive or negative stimuli. Change and environment both connect to child development. If there is lack of stimuli the connection will not be strong. Here serve and return relationships with the child is the most important ingredient. Thus adult response is very important for brain development and this is how we support genes and experiences to connect them strongly. Windows of opportunities in early years open the doors for the child to develop; opportunities such as vision, hearing, habitual way of responding, emotional control, symbolic languages and social skills are the ways that stimulate learning.
The interaction between genes and experiences stimulates learning as mental and physical development occurs in the environment of care, love, protection and attention. For instance, when families give their children special care by loving, responding to their nutritional and other needs and providing opportunities to learn. In such environment children learn to communicate their needs, solve problems and help others by playing and interacting with persons who care for them. Even at a very young age, children learn important skills that can prepare them for the life.
Bonds and relationship are very important for long term mental and physical health of the child. Love and care release stress and anxiety in the children. The brain is a social organ and it develops as the result of social interaction. The brain needs and relies on experiences. The experiences early in life can have a lasting impact on later learning, behaviour, and health. A child’s brain has 10 times more connections than internet. In the few first year, neurons form new connections at the astounding rate of 700-1000 per second. These early synaptic connections form the basis of a person’s lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change, have resilience in case of unexpected circumstances, as well physical and mental health.
Consequently, mother’s and child health is crucial for active stimulation of learning in the early stage. A greater level of brain development happens during pregnancy. At the stage of pregnancy and after the child’s birth a mother must intake enough and hygienic food to fulfill the needs of the child. Poorly nourished and ill mothers’ babies suffer and are at high risk of survival. They give birth to malnourished babies. These babies are 10 times more likely to die as infants and those who survive remain malnourished and become sick due to infectious diseases.
Modern research tells that mother’s milk provides the main source of nourishment during the first year of life. After the age of 4-5 months, a baby needs some additional foods containing rich protein and nutrients. The National Health Survey 2007 shows that foods other than the breast milk begin after 6 and 7 months of age in Pakistan. This indicates that most of the mothers are not aware of children’s proper diet according to their age. The lack of education among women is strongly associated with malnutrition among children which further cause serious diseases and developmental issues in life. Unfortunately, in Pakistan 1 in 4 toddlers are not getting enough iron in their diets. In such environment the mother feed the child when he/she cries. Having lack of awareness in child development such parents even do not know the use of available resources and facilities to meet the basic requirements of child development.
Considering the above facts, it is imperative to educate families and in fact the communities on early development and care. Educators and teachers need to play their role effectively as enablers rather than service providers. As a teacher we have to unfold and dig out the problems and solution of ECD at grass root level. Here the role of ECD teacher becomes crucial to support the child in nurturing and promote learning.
Another most important aspect is to understand ECD as a process of human development rather than merely a program as it is beyond the classroom which can be extended from home to the school and to the entire community.
Keeping all these aspects in the view parents’ education and awareness in early childhood development is critical and first key to produce good results. We can make ECD possible through developing integrating policies of health, education and social improvement activities. Through such initiatives everyone in the community can get benefit from investments in early childhood programs that prepares generations towards a better change.
The first and fundamental principal is to develop policies that are contextually appropriate and based on local needs. Number 2. Develop policy goals that are specific and achievable and develop plans for an integrated and Inclusive approach of ECD including aspect of health, education, child protection services, parents’ awareness and parents’ education.
All activities must be arranged for young women and men, future couples, pregnant mothers, family members, teachers and caregivers. The awareness and training must be comprising Early Childhood Care & Development, health and nutrition of women and child and child rights etc. The local community representatives should be given ownership through delegating responsibility for supporting activities at the community level. Resultantly, focusing the first 1000 days for each child will lay the foundations for optimal development and lifelong health and wellbeing in the country.