Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The First 2,000: The most important days of a child’s life

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.

CHIP Parent Educator Joanne Keenan reads to a child involved in their program (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of CHIP or SHR)
CHIP Parent Educator Joanne Keenan reads to a child involved in their program (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of CHIP or SHR)

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.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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