Place Matters: What Surrounds Us Shapes Us

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Place Matters:
What Surrounds Us Shapes Us

How the environment we create shapes the foundations of early childhood development

A wide range of conditions in the places where children live, grow, play, and learn can get “under the skin” and affect their developing brains and other biological systems. Beginning before birth, these environmental conditions shape how children develop, which shapes their lifelong physical and mental health.

The built and natural environments, and the systemic factors that shape those environments-such as the policies that influence where people are able to live and how resources are distributed-interact with each other and with a child’s social environment in deeply interconnected ways. Every environment is infused with a combination of influences, which can have positive and negative impacts on health and development. Knowing this, it’s important to recognize that levels of exposure to risk and access to opportunity are not distributed equally. In short, place matters.

Social Environment

The presence or absence of key influences in a child’s social environment plays an important role in their development.

Built & Natural Environments

The accessibility and exposure to various influences in a child’s built and natural environments shape their development directly, by influencing their developing biological systems, and indirectly, by interacting with their environment of relationships.

Systemic Influences

Broader systemic influences such as the ones listed here shape children’s development directly, while also shaping their environment of relationships and their built and natural environments.

All communities have aspects of their built and natural environments that have been designed through decisions made over time and can be re-designed to support healthy environments.

Working together across various policy domains beyond the early childhood sector—including areas like urban planning, environmental protection, and anti-discrimination policies—we can re-shape environmental influences with a science-informed lens so that all children can grow up in homes and neighborhoods free of hazards and rich with opportunity.

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