Geoffrey Nagle discusses why a child’s first 1,100 days are so important

Speaking at the City Club of Chicago and on Chicago’s WBEZ radio station, Erikson’s president talked about how to meet the needs of the city’s children.

The experiences children have in their first three years play a major role throughout their lives, and providing positive experiences in the early years can lead to higher academic achievement, better health, and greater overall well-being later in life.

Speaking to a group of influential business, civic, and government leaders in December at the City Club of Chicago, Erikson President and Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, stressed this point in a presentation titled “The First 1,100 Days Last Forever: How Chicago Can Meet the Needs of Our Youngest Children.” The presentation was an opportunity for leaders who shape early childhood policies and programs to establish a connection with Erikson Institute and learn from our experts.

The morning of the presentation, Dr. Nagle also had the opportunity to speak to a broader Chicago-area audience when interviewed on Chicago’s WBEZ-91.5 FM radio.

“The story we’ve heard about our schools may not be the real story,” he told reporter Jen White. “Schools are doing a lot better than we think they are doing, but they are struggling to overcome the deficits students have when coming into the schools. School failure isn’t really about the schools—it’s about how we prepare students for school. And we also have to understand the adversity children face and how that impacts them.”

In both the presentation and interview, Dr. Nagle connected what is known about child development with issues impacting Chicago, including its schools and neighborhoods, and talked about the role Erikson plays in supporting young children and their families.

Providing an overview of how the brain develops, he illustrated the relationship between positive early experience and the communities, schools, and homes where children spend their time.

“Early experience is the smoking gun for both academic achievement and health,” he told the City Club audience, noting that research has shown how children with more positive experiences early in life do better in school and even live longer on average.

In Chicago, he explained, many of the city’s youngest children are exposed from birth to “toxic stress” — unrelenting, negative experiences that have a profound effect on a person throughout life, such as poverty, violence, and substance abuse. “It’s not a bad day or week,” he said. “It’s a bad month, year, period of life.”

Throughout the United States, improving education is often seen as a remedy for long-term exposure to toxic stress, but the education system alone cannot be the solution, he added.

The Chicago Public Schools system, for instance, does a better job of narrowing the achievement gap between students from poor and wealthier households than any other large school district in the country, he explained. Yet by the time students complete high school, the gap remains.

“Generally speaking, school systems are educating poor and non-poor students equally across the country,” Dr. Nagle said. “But the system we have is not designed to close the achievement gap. Early childhood education is only a piece of the puzzle. We also need to think more broadly about policies that shape early experiences. Without those, we won’t move the needle.”

Erikson plays an important role in working to reshape the system of early childhood education, care, and policy, Dr. Nagle said. Through academic and continuing education programs, Erikson helps the adults in children’s lives better meet their needs and provide those critical positive experiences. Meanwhile, Erikson offers services that address issues related to early childhood mental health and fussy infants, reaching families directly in their homes. And policy and leadership programs help civic leaders make informed decisions about policies that impact children and families.

Watch the video of Dr. Nagle’s City Club presentation