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AAP Highlights Impact of Children’s Earliest Experiences on School Readiness

New policy statement calls on pediatricians to work with families and the community to promote healthy brain development and socio-emotional skills that provide the basis for learning

Getting kids ready for school begins well before the first day of preschool or kindergarten. According to a new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, helping children develop the physical, social-emotional, cognitive and language skills needed to learn should begin at birth.  

The policy statement, "The Pediatrician's Role in Optimizing School Readiness," will be published in the September 2016 Pediatrics (published online August 29). 

Research on 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 statement says. As pediatricians help ensure children's physical health, they also can work with families and communities to promote other vital developmental social-emotional components of school readiness

"Children's caregivers are their first teachers, and pediatricians can help families provide a safe, stable, nurturing and stimulating learning environment," said P. Gail Williams, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP's Council on Early Childhood and lead author of the statement. The statement highlights the importance of age-appropriate anticipatory guidance on social-emotional development necessary for school readiness, for example, and ways to address behavior concerns in a proactive, skills-building fashion.

Among other recommendations in the policy statement, which adds to a 2008 technical report on school readiness that was reaffirmed by the AAP in 2013, the pediatric community should:

  • Encourage families to incorporate activities into their daily routine that strengthen language, cognitive skills and parent-child bonds, such as reading, storytelling and playing games together. Model age-appropriate adult-child interactions during well visits.
  • Screen for developmental problems and other factors that can interfere with learning. These include "toxic stressors" that can impact brain development and social-emotional health such as child abuse and neglect, maternal depression, inadequate food or shelter, and domestic violence. Help connect families with community intervention resources.
  • Advocate for high-quality early childhood education, parent-child programs and evidence-based family supports such as home visits to help provide a foundation for optimal learning. Assist families in identifying the characteristics of quality child care facilities.
  • Support funding for community, state and federal programs that ensure adequate housing, healthcare and nutrition for children in their formative years and provide safe environments in which children can explore and play.
  • Incorporate components of school readiness into pediatric medical residency training and support further research into ways school readiness can be most effectively achieved.

"Because pediatricians often are the only health and development professional regularly involved in a young child's life, they are perfectly positioned to work with families and the community to monitor and promote the critical elements of early experiences that foster school readiness," said Jeffrey Okamoto, MD, FAAP, immediate-past chair of the AAP's Council on School Health and co-author of the policy statement.

Published
8/29/2016 12:30 AM
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