Gandhi said, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” That statement calls to mind our children. A tenant of many faith traditions is social justice. It summons us to build toward a more equitable society, to protect our most defenseless members, to value diversity and to amplify the voices of those who are not heard.
For the youngest among us, the holiday season can bring a touch of magic—and an overwhelming amount of stress. The good intentions of parents and other family members who wish to recreate for their kids all of the wonderful details they remember about the holidays can result in impossibly difficult situations for young children. What do our kids really need to feel happy and fulfilled this time of year?
For many of us, one of the most satisfying elements of the Thanksgiving holiday is sitting down to a large family-style meal. That shared experience with food offers a sense of connection and belonging to family and friends who are important to us.
Dan & Whit's is a family-owned general store located in Norwich, Vermont. Since the time it was purchased by my grandfather, Dan Fraser, and his business partner, William Whitney "Whit" Hicks, in 1955, we have relied on the close teamwork of our family members and employees to build the store into the community landmark it is today. We've worked hard to forge that dedicated employee base and supporting their needs has been central to that effort.
As the owner of Black River Produce in Springfield, Vermont, I employ 170 people, and I see how crucially this issue of early childhood affects my business in two specific ways. First, having to depend on child care has affected the lives of almost every single one of my employees at some point in their careers. The second point is that we need a highly competent future workforce, as modern-day jobs increasingly require well-developed cognitive, social-emotional and executive functioning skills.
Science shows that children who do not have quality early experiences are more likely to suffer negative life outcomes, such as teen pregnancy, crime, poor health and dependence on social services. These negative outcomes are costly to both the individual and our society as a whole.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than half of children who have developmental challenges are identified before starting school. In Vermont, 40-50% of children are not prepared for kindergarten.
Getting kids ready for school doesn’t just start with buying lunch boxes and backpacks, or even with teaching kids to count. It starts on day one—before children have any grasp of language. An infant's first caregivers can begin to teach her, even in the earliest moments of life, the basics of curiosity, cooperation, emotional resilience, self-confidence and self-control—social-emotional skills that are essential to success in school and beyond.
We know from a recent Census Bureau report that 72% of Vermont children under the age of 6 have all parents in the workforce. These parents rely on care outside of the home for their children for up to 40 hours a week. Making sure those working parents can provide quality early experiences for their children helps attract and retain skilled workers and increases their productivity.
Are our children the product of their genes or of their environment? We had come to believe that DNA makes us who and what we are, kind of like a genetic blueprint for development. However, researchers in recent years have come to realize that genes aren’t a fixed, predetermined program simply passed on from one generation to the next.
New findings show that the positive and negative experiences a child has—particularly during the earliest stages of life—can affect how genes work, and therefore, how children develop.