The first 2,000 days of a child’s life sets the tone for all of the days that follow.
The First 2,000 is also a campaign of the Children’s Health Investment Program (CHIP) of South Hampton Roads that focuses on the days between a child’s birth and the time they enter kindergarten.
“It’s the most important time for development in a child’s life,” said Trish O’Brien, the CEO of CHIP, who has spent some 30 years working with low income families.
Parents need to start from day-one getting their child ready for school, she said, not wait until it’s almost time for school to begin.
Reading, conversation, and counting are all important. Really communication of any sort, whether it’s about colors or shapes or sounds – anything that can stimulate a child’s brain.
The spoken word, O’Brien said, changes the way a child’s brain reacts.
“Talk to a child before they can even talk, so they can hear and process words and engage with people,” she said. “It has a huge effect on how they perform in school. It’s not just about the ABCs and 1,2,3s, but about the social aspect, too.”
Can a child follow direction? Can they sit and listen to a story? How will the child interact with his or her peers? Those are all important skills to have before starting school and things parents can work on with their children.
Studies show that children who live in a poverty situation have often heard 30 million fewer words than children in higher income families.
O’Brien said in many homes there are also no newspapers, no books, nothing at all in writing.
CHIP parent educators serve at any one time as many as 300 families in Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.
For parents, reaching out can be difficult, and finding the appropriate resources even harder.
But, she said, “You don’t have to have a lot of money to build a child’s brain.”
It can be as simple as counting cereal pieces and talking about shapes or colors in the grocery store.
Libraries too are a big help, offering books, story time, and programs for children and parents.
Parents can help their child adjust to the new school routine by preparing them over the summer.
“When a child is getting ready to start kindergarten, take some time over the summer to do simple things like setting a bedtime, laying out clothes, or finding a place to put their backpack,” O’Brien said.
Parents should be involved in their child’s school life, including being sure to take part in parent-teacher conferences.
Guidance can also be found online. CHIP parent educators recommend Parents as Teachers.