You’ve stocked in a mountain of nutritious and delicious lunch and snack options and stacked the backpack with cool back-to-school supplies.
All immunizations are up-to-date and you’ve arranged after-school care plans — and a sick-day game strategy, to boot. You’ve even managed to survive getting your young one’s summer sleep patterns back on track. Kudos to you because all this is no easy feat.
And while your son or daughter is, no doubt, all ready to go back to school, did you know that a child’s school readiness actually begins years before they even turn up on the doorstep of your local school? And by years, we mean way back to the time of conception.
Yes, you read that right. Your child’s school readiness began in the womb, a mere two weeks after conception. Your healthy pregnancy produced a bundle of joy that burst into the world with billions of neutrons which have to form quadrillions of connections to function effectively.
The type of experiences your child has during their first six years has a direct effect on how their brain develops and, more importantly, can determine whether or not they do well in school, have behavioural problems, are well-adjusted, or reach their full potential.
It’s an idea that’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around, to be sure, but science backs it up.
Academic success starts in the womb
The late Dr. Fraser Mustard, a physician, professor and researcher who became world-renowned for his work in early childhood development, ignited conversations around the world about how brain development from conception to age six essentially sets the blueprint for a child’s health and well-being well into adulthood.
Dr. Mustard was one of the first to make the connection that a child’s environment up to six years of age plays a critical role in how their brain develops.
In other words, the quality of activities that challenge or make use of a child’s five senses — taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight — influences the brain’s ability in the early years to think and regulate bodily functions. A supportive environment, nurturing parents and tender, loving care gives a child the confidence she needs to go out into the world and make her mark.
That, along with good and ample nutrition, also drives a child’s ability to learn, determines their behaviour and even their overall health later in life.
Just what the doctor ordered
As profound as this sounds, an illustration of this theory in action is the implementation of full-day kindergarten in Ontario. That move was meant to get the early years right so a child would be set for life.
The American Academy of Paediatrics notes in a policy statement on the subject that research on early brain development emphasizes the effects of early experiences, relationships, and emotions on creating and reinforcing the neural connections that are the basis for learning.
The academy believes that pediatricians are in a good position to significantly influence a child’s school readiness. Your naturopathic doctor or other healthcare provider could also help you build a strong foundation.
Food for thought
For instance, help to support optimal nutrition goals for learning is only one naturopathic appointment away, says Dr. Adriana Restagno, a naturopathic doctor who has a special interest in family medicine and pediatric care.
The second-time mom to a three-year-old and a newborn herself offers the following tips to help children be the best they can be. Little things can amount to an optimal learning terrain for little ones (and big ones, too):
- Prepare balanced meals
- Minimize sugar, artificial dyes and additives to keep blood sugar balanced
- Ensure proper hydration through water
- Get adequate protein intake for good immunity
- Support focus and brain health through simple supplements like fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D
“I think parents can set the stage by being good role models for all of the above,” Dr. Restagno says. “Eat balanced meals with your little ones, be open to a variety of foods, drink lots of water, be active and attentive. It’s simple but amazing just how much children learn by simply observing their environment.”
When did your little one start school? How did you prepare them for the transition? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.