Monday, March 16, 2015 | Dr. Bruce Stahly
While a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, I decided that maybe I should pursue being a pediatrician so I waited a year to apply and while waiting I became a junior high-high school mathematics teacher. I share this because I have always loved interacting with children and have always felt like any child born should have equal opportunities to pursue his/her dream. Today, even more so than in the early 70’s, I know that children do not have equal opportunities. You do not need to do much research to find some alarming statistics about the importance of early childhood education. It haunts me that we as a society do not acknowledge that so much of learning begins at birth to age 3 and therefore do not act to assist parents and caregivers in this most important task. Mothers and fathers are the most important teacher during this age span, but having said that, what are we as a society to do if parents do not know how to assist their child? It appears we just wait until the child is kindergarten age and then do everything we can to assist the parent and child but at this point we are starting from a starting line that is literally years behind the starting line of another child. It’s like a 6 lap race where some have completed all six laps or more but others, due possibly to parental neglect, are just starting on the 3rd lap. I did say parental neglect but I do not mean this in a negative way. Many times it is parental neglect due to lack of knowledge, lack of resources, lack of choices, or lack of others willing to help. In these cases, our society does need to step forward and assist these parents for two reasons, one to stop the cycle, but even more important is to give this child the same opportunity that other children are given.
This is even more personal to me, as a first time grandparent I marvel at the development that is taking place with my grandson during his first 8 months of life. The preceding diagram summarizes well the rapid growth of neural circuits in the first 12 months of life. I know that my grandson will have these neural circuits reinforced continuously but I also want all children to have this same opportunity!
The diagram above shows this spreading of the starting line with differences in development appearing very early -- in this instance, differences in vocabulary growth between children in low socio-economic households and high socio-economic households begin to appear as early as 18 months. And as the children grow toward school age, and enter school, the differences only get larger in the absence of intervention.
Knowing this, what can we do? Well, my suggestion would be to celebrate the upcoming Week of the Young Child, April 12 – 18. Read more about this week on the child on this website http://www.naeyc.org/woyc. We will be posting some of the things we are doing in Elkhart County to celebrate the Week of the Young Child (April 12-18) on our facebook page and our website. We hope you will join in this celebration!