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Focusing on the Need to Help WV Babies Learn Early

GRAPHIC: The website www.firstthousanddayswv.com is intended to inform policymakers and the public about the importance of the first years of life. Courtesy Early Childhood Advisory Council of West Virginia.
GRAPHIC: The website www.firstthousanddayswv.com is intended to inform policymakers and the public about the importance of the first years of life. Courtesy Early Childhood Advisory Council of West Virginia.
January 23, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia doctors are stressing to parents the importance of interacting with children - from the moment of birth - to help their young brains develop.

Recent research has confirmed that senses and mental capabilities develop most quickly during a child's first three years. Dr. Mary Boyd, an Elkins pediatrician and president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says parents need to remember that they are very much a part of the huge changes going on inside their baby's brain.

"Talk to your child, play with toys, point things out to the child. You can even read books. Even though the child's not saying much at 1 and 2 months of age, they can still interact with their parents, even that early."

Boyd, discussing the issue in between seeing young patients, says until children go to preschool or kindergarten, most of their interaction is with immediate family members. She says that means parents have to step up to provide stimulus during this crucial early period.

"In the beginning, usually, it's just the parents and family, that first one or two years. It helps their brain develop, and all their senses. You're helping them with their vision and helping them to learn."

The Early Childhood Advisory Council of West Virginia is running a campaign called "The First Thousand Days" to raise public awareness of the issue. Boyd says it's a message worth listening to, since this early interaction shows up clearly in how quickly children learn.

"I can tell when a child's not getting good interaction with their parents. The child is just withdrawn, and they just don't learn as fast."

Estimates are that for every $1 invested in healthy early childhood development, the state gets $7 back. Last month, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin delayed planned cuts to state-subsidized child care for the working poor. That move won praise from children's advocates, who say quality child care can be vital.

More information on the First Thousand Days campaign is online at firstthousanddayswv.com. A related public service announcement is at youtube.com.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV