Education has hammered a bad nail. We need to focus on the early years.

Maria and her husband arrived at Adventist HealthCare’s The Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness in 2018 in search of answers for their then two-year-old middle son, Lucas.

Their home is busy, busy wrestling, full of outdoor adventures and covered in Lego. They absolutely love their chaos. And even though Lucas is a wonderful young part of that joyful household – smart, caring, stupid, loving and so very curious – he had extremely difficult times dealing with the daily transitions between activities and interactions. He also had speech delays and was questioned in everyday communication. Lucas needed help. So are Maria and her husband. They were sent to the Lourie Center in Rockville, Maryland, a short distance from Washington, DC

The Louria Therapeutic Nursery Program offers a comprehensive early childhood program that provides education and clinical services. He is inspired by the theory of attachment to support children and their families who face a range of social and emotional, mental and behavioral health needs.

Lucas’s teachers and therapists at downtown Louria were able to provide Lucas with remarkably caring, attentive care and education. Nevertheless, his journey did not go unnoticed. When COVID-19 hit, Lucas was deeply shaken by the blockade. Both isolation from his friends and beloved teachers and changes in routine affected his ability to regulate. He would no longer benefit without the personal support of a team of caring educators and counselors in the Lourie Center, who tirelessly helped him during these turbulent months.

Lucas has since grown into a joyful and confident student. Next autumn, he is happily preparing for kindergarten. Nearly 80 percent of young children attending a therapeutic crèche program in downtown Louria will progress to a traditional nursery school setting. This is an extraordinary achievement because the program only accepts children who need behavioral, cognitive, socio-emotional and mental support.

Critics say such services are too expensive to reach the masses, and it is indeed expensive to provide this type of specialized support. However, social savings far outweigh the initial costs. Consider the annual cost of K-12 Special education is almost three times higher than “general education”: $ 26,000 compared to $ 9,000 per student, for example in California.

In addition, children who are excluded from pre-school or early primary school are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned. These later societal costs could be avoided if careful attention were given to children at an early age to regulate their emotions and suppress the toxic stress that often results from exposure to trauma. Preschool classes with behavioral counseling services, such as the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC), have seen significantly lower exclusion rates.

The value of the human potential unleashed by early education and social and emotional interventions is more difficult to assess: it is likely to be unlimited. After all, Albert Einstein also had speech delays and received a specialized (private) education to prepare for elementary school.

There are many children in America, such as Lucas, whose early education and targeted social and emotional support can help alleviate the effects of emotional stress, dysregulation, or trauma, and change the trajectory of a child’s life forever. There have been many more since the arrival of COVID-19.

Rapid-EC research team, an early childhood and family well-being survey launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, led by Dr. Phil Fisher of the University of Oregon, monitors the well-being of children each week with the onset of a pandemic. Emotional stress in children under 5 years of age has more than doubled.

Professor Yale Dr. Walter Gilliam recently conducted a survey of 50,000 preschool teachers across the country. He found that 56 percent of children said they were more aggressive, hyperactive, or more opposed than they used to be, and 55 percent said that children were shyer, more closed, or more anxious.

For me, meeting Mary during the pandemic led me to the deep realization that we had been hammering a bad nail in American education for too long. We focused our energy, resources and talent on K-12 grades – specifically K-12 schools and even more closely on individual K-12 cognitive outcomes such as reading or math. What children need – including Lucas – is a solid foundation centered around stable and caring relationships with parents, adults, teachers, young and old friends, mentors and more. Hammering on shaky foundations doesn’t help. The pandemic has shown us that we also need a new modern design in education that refocuses on the nature of our social brains and our resilience: interpersonal relationships. That’s what the Lourie Center calls it attachment, also known as love.

Building solid foundations

Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic, the majority (58 percent) of all American children aged 3-5 were not completely “healthy and ready to learn.” Gaps in health and learning readiness that accumulate before the age of 5 fuel gaps in K-12 learning outcomes. Most young children who start behind are more likely to stay behind or still behind. Our existing K-12 system does a good job stabilizing gaps, but fails closing them. I’m not suggesting we remove the hammer, but rather build a stronger base for the K-12 to make it more efficient. The reality is that too many children are starting behind.

If we take a group of 100 children from a low-income environment, only 48 will enter a fully prepared kindergarten. Most of the 52 children who start behind will stay behind for life, but a handful will catch up in K-12. Simply put, the gap in the early years is the biggest source of injustice in our education system and probably in our society.

Because most of our children are not completely “healthy and ready to learn,” we are destroying much of our human talent potential as a nation. A deep body of research shows that children who start unprepared kindergarten are less likely to complete secondary school, graduate from university and be in stable relationships, are more likely to go to prison, are dependent on social benefits, are unemployed and have long-term health care. problems.

In the early years, Congress worked on historical investment. While legislative discussions have recently stalled, enforcement efforts continue to mobilize towards an ambitious policy package that would affect millions of young students and families.

The future of connection-oriented learning

Science is clear that children need at least one stable, caring relationship to thrive, and that relationships can help overcome trauma, especially in the early years. Relationships are associated with better academic results. The American Academy of Pediatrics is pushing for health promotion in relation to building resilience and suppressing child toxic stress. However, the reality is worrying: even before the pandemic, more than one in three young children does not have a caring adult relationship.

The network of relationships around our young students is falling apart: fewer families, smaller adult family friends, more isolation, less contact with adults, more time for children and parents online and a college race that starts very young with crowded children and less time to play and building healthy relationships. In addition to the width of these connections, it is also declining. The emotional connection between mother and child halved during the pandemic.

Starting in 2022, we must imagine our ideas again the future of relationship learning around the key pillars of the relationship (“PTLM”).

  • Pfamilies and families through greater support and promotion of supportive and caring parenting;
  • Teach through inclusive and trauma-sensitive schools;
  • Lencourage friends with increased play and support of kindness;
  • Minvolving adults in neighborhoods, activities and communities, including intergenerational programs. An interesting recent proposal calls for an intergenerational “Caring Corps” with one million large adults to support small students.

Behind school walls, urban design plays a role, as do technologies that focus on children and relationships and help us connect – and reconnect with our humanity.

Just as we have the concept of “zero emissions” or “zero waste” in the field of climate change, it is time to focus on “zero human waste potential”, a world where every child, like Lucas, learns and thrives through caring relationships. and is entitled to reach its full potential.


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