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Giving children the best possible start in life

That’s the aim of a new trans-disciplinary institute at the University of Toronto.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | NOV 07 2012

A child’s first 2,000 days from conception to roughly the start of school – that essentially is the focus of the recently announced Fraser Mustard Institute for Human Development at the University of Toronto.

The conditions under which the child develops during that time “has a remarkable impact on shaping that individual’s future health, learning and social functioning,” says the new institute’s executive director, Stephen Lye, a professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynaecology and physiology at U of T. “If we can optimize this environment during this period, providing our children with the best possible start in life, it would go a long way to enhancing their full potential, which I think is the goal of any society.”

The “virtual” institute will bring together re-searchers from across disciplines at the university – including education, medicine, psychology, biology and social work – as well as at the affiliated teaching hospitals. About 100 people at the university have already expressed an interest in joining, says Dr. Lye, “and I suspect we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”

The institute is named in honour of pioneering childhood development expert Fraser Mustard, who died in November 2011. “He was a remarkable individual who contributed to a revolution in our thinking about the importance of early childhood,” says Dr. Lye. “He was able to use evidence and put it in a way that captured the attention of both the public and government to affect change.” When, for example, Ontario instituted full-day kindergarten, “Fraser had a role to play in that.” The eponymous institute will continue that legacy, he says.

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