Child advocates emphasize first 2,000 days of life
by Anna Oakes
The Children's Council of Watauga County used the Week of the Young Child as a springboard to discuss the importance of early childhood development at a luncheon Wednesday.
Sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Week of the Young Child recognizes the needs of young children and thanks educators and others involved in building better futures for all youth.
Children's Council Executive Director Crystal Kelly delivered a presentation at the Watauga Medical Center auditorium on the significant impacts of a child's development within the first 2,000 days of life.
"The brain is the only organ not fully developed at birth," Kelly noted.
During the first few years of life, 700 new neural synapses are formed in the brain every second, and early opportunities for learning, engagement and support can help children build strong foundations for future intellectual capacity, memory and problem solving skills, according to information from the First 2,000 Days campaign.
Kelly noted that groups representing military, law enforcement and economic development interests have called for a greater investment in early childhood programs because of research linking quality early learning to lower crime rates, higher graduation rates, better jobs and less reliance on social services.
A panel of six child development professionals and volunteers addressed questions and comments from luncheon attendees.
Panel members emphasized the significance of social and emotional skill development in young children.
"A lot of people don't understand the importance of play," said panelist Meggan Knight, who coordinates the Children's Council's diaper bank program. "That is how they learn."
Panelists agreed that early childhood programs should not place too much emphasis on academic skills.
"A lot of people think (early childhood education) means ABCs at 2 years old ... (and) I think it's turning a lot of children off to learning," said Cindy McGaha, a child development professor at Appalachian State University. "Really it's about the pleasure of the experience. That's the real critical piece."
Peggy Eller, director of ASU's Child Development Center, said she recently made the decision to remove all computers from the center because children have enough exposure to technology at home.
"Play is so important," she said. "Under age 5, children are not physically or cognitively ready to feel like they're in a competitive world."
Through play, children learn valuable social skills like cooperation, anger and mood management and empathy, the First 2,000 Days campaign notes.
Kelly also noted that April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Dozens of blue pinwheels have been placed at the Jones House in downtown Boone to raise awareness about child abuse.
The Children's Council is the North Carolina Smart Start Partnership for the county; the state-funded initiative supports child care-related health and family support services for infants to 5-year-olds.
Established in 1977, the council offers family support, early literacy programs, child care technical assistance, professional development, community outreach and resources for families and child care providers.
For more information, visit http://www.thechildrenscouncil.org or call (828) 262-5424.