The first 1000 days!

The first 1000 days of an infant’s life is regarded the most important stage as this is when the human brain experiences expedential growth. There are many theories and philosophies which explain the importance of the first 1000 days of infants and toddlers. John Bowlbys theory of attachment posits that the development of an affectional bond between a child and an attachment figure is vital and thus plays an important role for kaiako in early childhood education. Healthy attachment is based on meeting a child’s needs for safety, protection and security – these are crucial for infancy and childhood. Developing an emotional bond with an adult, provides a child with a safe and secure environment. Making connections and building realtionships and trust leads to healthy cognitive and physical development. This essay will examine the theory of attachment and how important it is for brain development and biology of infants and toddlers –  which has longlasting implications for living a healthy adult life. I will also discuss how I practice pedagogy as an earlychildhood educator in relation to the first 1000 days of infants and toddlers and Te Whāriki.

Learning about and supporting a child’s first 1000 days is important as a kaiako because we are working with infants and toddlers everyday. We have an impact on their lifelong learning and development. Understanding the development and functions of infants and toddlers is a priority and responsibility of ours as early childhood practitioners. Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017) explains how one of the responsibilities of a kaiako is to gain knowledge about our children’s learning and development so that we can identify how they learn, what their strengths and interests are, and support positive learning trajectories. Understanding how our tamariki learn and exploring what makes them unique, will create an environment that will let their imagination and curious selves shine. Relationships are very important for brain development as this is how we learn to communicate. Neuron connectivity in our brain is supported by relationships – the connections between ourselves, others, and the world all contribute to neuron pathway building. The more connections that the brain develops in those first 1000 days the better developmentally for the child. McCaleb & Mikaere-Wallis (2005) explains that when you turn three years of age the limbic system is due to prune away all the unused connections, so if you are not making those neuron connections early, then they will drop off and disappear. That’s why if we have healthy, responsive relationships with whānau, kaiako and the community we are more likely to continue using these learned connections, continually growing developmentally.

A newborn depends on their primary caregivers for safety, protection and security as they cannot yet care for themselves. Wallis (2013) explains how the 0 – 3 year old brain needs to feel safe, secure and in partnership by people who adore them. These relationships will influence the ways people develop (i.e- influence who they are and how they see the world). Early childhood attachments also influence one’s wellbeing – both in infancy/childhood, and adulthood. The building blocks of creating an attachment relationship with an infant comes from feeding, bathing, changing nappies, comforting and holding them. Those are special moments where you connect, engage, make eye contact and nurture your baby. Rowley (2016) explains that when infants form a strong attachment, it lays down connections in the parts of the brain that are associated with memory and emotions. Bredekamp (2018) emphasizes how “early life experiences build the architecture of the brain” (p. 41). This is followed by Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017) which explains that responsive and reciprocal relationships will support our tamariki to try out their ideas and refine their working theories. The more time that they have feeling safe, secure and in partnership with a parent, kaiako, whānau, the better outcomes that they will have behaviorally and academically. Therefore, building those early relationships with tamariki and developing a secure attachment with infants and toddlers is incredibly important for them to optimise their capabilities for lifelong-learning.

Basic functions for the brainstem are breathing, heart rate and body temperature, the brainstem also activates the ‘freeze, fight or flight’ survival function. To learn effectively tamariki need to feel calm and safe, this is the first stage of brain development. The mid-brain is connected to motor development, while the limbic brain filters our emotions which helps us interact and communicate effectively with others. Finally, the cortex is part of our brain which has the ability to filter our emotions to think logically and abstractly. It is important for kaiako to understand each component of brain development so that we can understand what our tamariki need.

The foundations of the brain (brainstem), need to have strong and supporting walls (mid-brain, limbic); before the roof (cortix) can be fully developed. Gaining knowledge about brain development as kaiako is important so that we can understand the stages of the brain that will influence the readiness of how our tamariki learn.

Pedagogy is a way of teaching and how kaiako create an enviornment for our tamariki that will nurture and foster their learning and development. Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017) explain how curriculum and pedagogy can be practiced within an early childcare setting by influencing, supporting and guidancing a child’s development. Brain development is clearly linked with one of the curriculum principals ‘relationships’.

In conclusion, the first 1000 days of an infant’s life shows how much growth occurrs, especially regarding brain development. John Bowlby’s theory of attachment shows how attachment is a strong influencer of brain developent. If you have a secure attachment with a primary caregiver in the early years of life then your interactions with others develop important neuron connections within the brain. Building those important relationships with our tamariki is a vital part in early childhood education, making them feel included, secure and safe. Extensive research has shown how much the human brain grows in the first 1000 days, the environment that our tamariki are immersed in impacts their life experiences and the way they understand themselves and the world. In saying this, the absence of a supportive emotional environment can have negative effects on adulthood both mentally and physically, which is why early life experiences are so important. My pedagogy and assessment is based around the relationships that I have formed with our whānau and tamariki to create learning experiences that will benefit them and their development. As an early childcare teacher I want to contribute to help shape resilient learners and have an ever lasting impact on childrens’ lives and be apart of those important building foundations of their first 1000 days of life.