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From placenta to play centre

From placenta to play centre

Anyone who has ever held a newborn in their arms, must at some stage have wondered how this eating, sleeping, emitting blob, turns into a child ready for the classroom, in little more than 1825 days.

Somewhere along the way that child will have learned to sit, crawl, stand, walk and run. She will have progressed from gargling coos to chattering babbles, single words, and fluent language. The blob will have moved from a state of complete dependence, to being able to get dressed, eat breakfast and tell a joke all at the same time.

These developments are wondrous, but obvious. What about those milestones that may escape notice? How does a child know that the word ‘dog’ refers to that animal, rather than its ears, furriness or bark? When does a child understand that the ball her mum has hidden behind her back hasn’t disappeared into the ether, but just become obscured to her vision? How does a child learn that the swaying trees are not being moved by the spirits, but by an invisible force called ‘wind’.

The questions roll on forever, and they become more intoxicating as the list grows.

Related to the science of child development is the emerging field investigating the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD). There is increasing evidence that child and adult health is influenced by what takes place during fetal life. Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis and intelligence have all been linked to events during prenatal life. But how do we sort the ‘real’ findings (wheat) from the ‘maybe’ findings (chaff). Furthermore, how do we package up and present this information without bombarding women with an overwhelming list of dos and don’ts.

And what about schooling? How much influence does this exert on a child’s progression? Does it really make a difference if your child goes to the top listed school on the My School website? And, if so, why aren’t Teachers held up as the most important professionals in our modern society?

All of these ideas - from ‘placenta’ to ‘play centre’ - will be explored in this new column for The Conversation.

I hope you enjoy the journey.

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