As a Goodwill Ambassador, what have you seen to be the most important life challenge facing early childhood education in the world?

The biggest challenge I can see worldwide is that there is no compulsory program or agreed upon international standards that call for early childhood education, and this is crucial not only because the first five years of life are when the brain develops at a rate that is unparalleled later in life, but also because in developing countries, it’s children’s best chance at having the right start in life so they can stay in school and become productive members of society.

How does this challenge directly affect or relate to United States children?

The United States, like most other countries, doesn’t have free pre-K nationwide — though some states have begun to implement it and shown promising progress. Although it’s one of the richest economies in the world, there are many living below the poverty line and places where education is failing. Universal access to pre-K helps take some of the onus off parents, particularly working parents, to be the sole educators. I think the biggest challenge, that is already gaining strength as a movement, is creating awareness of how valuable it really is.

What do you believe can be done to overcome this challenge?

The more that constituents put pressure on their leaders to prioritize this issue, the better chance it has of gaining public funding. Media campaigns have greatly helped in this respect, raising awareness of the value and return on investment.

What do you believe needs to be prioritized when it comes to early childhood education?

I think it’s very important for early childhood education to include: nutrition, particularly in developing countries, because healthy nutrition goes hand in hand with healthy brain development; and parent education, so that parents are able to reinforce at home what has been taught in school.

As a mother of two young children, how do you maintain a healthy early development environment before they enter kindergarten?

While I recognize that many parents work and have limited time at home with their children, I think the best thing you can do is take advantage of the time you do have and engage in meaningful interaction with them — talking, showing affection, reading to them. Babies are taking in so much and need constant stimulation. It doesn’t take much creativity on the part of an adult — it’s just exposing them to interaction and being as nurturing as possible when you are together — it goes a long way.

What do you focus on when it comes to having a hand in your children’s education?

I am a bit of a “Tiger Mom” so I’m very involved. I try to look for activities that cover broad development areas, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive, social/emotional, etc. I try to be as in touch with their teachers as much as possible, so I know what’s going on in school and it’s not a world that’s totally dissonant with their home environment. I read a lot on parenting.

What can parents do for their child’s early environment?

The principal thing is creating a safe and loving environment, much of the rest stems naturally from the closeness of the parent-child relationship.

Why is this important?

Talking to your child, even when you think they don’t understand, is one of the most positive things you can do for so many areas of development — cognitive, language, social-emotional. The more words they hear per day, the better.

What should parents be focusing on before enrolling their children in an early education program?

I believe focusing on creating an environment where they feel safe and where their curiosity is encouraged.