On Wednesday 15th November, The Princess of Wales and The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood hosted The Shaping Us National Symposium at The Design Museum in London. The event brought together cross-disciplinary leaders, child and adult specialists, and global thinkers for the first time to consider how we grow, think, and behave throughout life, in order to build resilience for the future.

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood has conducted a first of its kind global listening exercise, involving experts from 21 countries around the world, to unite the thinking and agree on the key foundational skills we lay in early childhood, but continue to grow beyond it, that help establish happy, healthy adult lives.

These social and emotional skills are fundamental to our future mental and physical well-being – shaping everything from our ability to form positive relationships, to our capacity for learning, working, and coping with adversity. They all have their foundations in early childhood.

This work has been undertaken to agree a set of common core skills that can apply equally to children and adults, so we can bring people together with a united language and vision to drive action at every level. The Shaping Us National Symposium shared the findings from this exercise and focused on the action needed to make social and emotional skills a greater priority.

The Symposium began with a keynote speech, delivered by The Princess of Wales. Mental health and well-being advocate, and Shaping Us Champion Fearne Cotton, hosted the event. The day also featured talks from a range of thought leaders to outline the scientific, economic and human cases for prioritising early childhood, and our social and emotional development, including:

  • Professor Jack Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard whom Her Royal Highness previously met during a visit to Boston last year.
  • Sara Rajeswaran, Chief of Staff at Aviva, a key member of the Business Taskforce for Early Childhood which The Princess launched in March.
  • Professor Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies of adult life ever conducted.

The findings were presented and discussed at the event by a panel of experts covering their professional and personal experiences. Chaired by Professor Eamon McCrory, the panel will include broadcaster Ashley John-Baptiste, clinical psychologist and author Sophie Mort, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, Neil Leitch and Beverley Barnett-Jones, Associate Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

During the afternoon, Symposium attendees joined a series of workshops to look at what action can be taken at every level to protect and strengthen these skills for current and future generations across disciplines and across sectors.

The event and the research that has been carried out by The Centre for Early Childhood is a key milestone for The Centre’s Shaping Us campaign, which Her Royal Highness launched at the beginning of the year.  The long-term campaign aims to increase awareness of, and action on, the unique importance of early childhood in shaping our future mental and physical wellbeing as adults, as well as the nature of the wider society we build.

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