a role in how children form and
maintain relationships, control their
emotions, think about the world
around them, and grow.
Alberta has a number of innovative
programs for children who are at
higher–risk of poor development,
and the earlier children and families
are connected to these programs, the
Stress can also affect a child’s
development, especially when it is
The first few years are huge
milestones in development, but it
doesn’t stop there. Basic development
ends around age five, but children
and their brains continue to develop
and mature for their entire lifetime.
“By no means is the story all
over by age five,” says Thomas
Boyce, professor of Pediatrics at
the University of British Columbia.
“There is still a host of developmental
neurological events that are
There are many ways that we can
help children develop in healthy
ways. Talking with them, supporting
them, and giving them a safe and
stable environment can all lead to
— Yasmin Jaswal
Visit myhealth.alberta.ca and search
for early childhood development. You’ll
find dozens of hits.
The gap between what we know
and what we do
In Canada, fewer than five per cent of children at every socio–
economic level are born with known limits to their development. By
school age, more than 25 per cent of children are behind where they
should be in their physical, social, language or cognitive development.
In other words almost all children are born with a strong potential to
grow, learn and thrive but by school age many, approximately one in
five, have lost ground.
When children start school and can’t hold a pencil, follow instructions
or get along with other children they are said to be “vulnerable.”
Not surprisingly, children from poor families are more likely to
be vulnerable than children from higher income families. What is
surprising is that vulnerable children also come from middle and
upper income families in large numbers. While the middle class has
a smaller percentage of vulnerable children overall, there is a much
higher number just because of the size of the middle class in Canada
What this should tell us is that no specific population group can be
exclusively targeted for intervention in the early childhood years –
either by income, ethnicity, family risk factors or other traditional risk
factors. Vulnerability cuts across all groups.
How can communities support
healthy early childhood
There is no easy or obvious answer to this question. Stable income
and secure housing are essential first steps but alone they are not
enough to provide the right conditions for healthy development. What
we know about the science of early childhood development tells us
that young children, in addition to proper nutrition, opportunities for
physical activity, clothing and shelter, also need to be surrounded by
quality caregiving, positive “serve and return” experiences and
“nontoxic” environments. The community is where most families will
look to meet these needs.
— Let’s Talk About the Early Years