Lesson Plans

Discussion Questions: Roger Thurow's The First 1,000 Days

Image by Roger Thurow. Uganda, 2013.

Introducing The First 1,000 Days:


Research has shown that the first one thousand days of a person’s life (birth to second birthday) are the most important because of the rapid mental and physical development that happens during that time. In an October 2015 report, UNICEF wrote that “Nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.” The report continues, “Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can also lead to stunted growth, which is irreversible and associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.”


The First 1,000 Days investigates what babies need during the first 1,000 days of their lives, the barriers that some families face in providing those things for their babies, and the different ways that people are working to combat malnutrition and stunting around the world. Use the questions from the Pulitzer Center education team below to guide a discussion about the themes of The First 1,000 Days and the questions at the right, devised by educator Anne-Michele Boyle, to facilitate detailed conversations about individual chapters. In addition to reading the book, review the resources attached and the introduction to the book posted on The Chicago Council on Global Affairs website to help guide your discussion.


Teachers, if you are interested in connecting Roger with your students, contact education@pulitzercenter.org.


1. What is resonating with you after reading the book? What images, facts and stories are most sticking with you?

2. How much did you know about the first 1,000 days before reading this book? How does what you learned in the book compare to the messages you have been receiving about nutrition throughout your life? What do you think are the most important things that people can take from the book, and why?

3. What did you find to be the most common factors leading to malnutrition around the world? What role did culture play in each country? After reading about the different ways malnutrition and stunting can look globally, where do you see the effects of malnutrition in your own community, or in your country? What are the factors that have led to malnutrition, and what do you think could be next steps to combating malnutrition in your community?

4. Which community program described in the book seemed the most effective? Which community programs didn’t work as well, and why? What does a program need to be able to effectively combat malnutrition?

5. Which subject(s) did you most connect to in the book? Who would you most want to follow up with and why?

6. Discuss the following quotation from The First 1,000 Days:

“A stunted child in Africa is eventually a stunted child everywhere, as the impact, particularly the economic cost, rolls through time and across societies and around the world like the ripples that spread from a single pebble cast into a pond.”

Where do you see the impact of what Thurow describes in your community? What is a person’s connection to the nutrition of someone in another country? What is one person’s responsibility to the nutrition of someone in another country?

7. When writing about Guatemala, Thurow describes the paradox that many farmers in Guatemala cannot afford the nutrient-rich foods they export to the United States. Discuss this paradox. What are the causes and potential solutions?

8. Throughout the book, Thurow emphasizes the importance of providing a sanitary environment for pregnant mothers and young children. Discuss the role that a clean environment has on children. Who is responsible for providing safe, clean environments for children? How much can parents control? Where are areas in your community and around the world whose environment might negatively impact children in their first 1,000 days? What can be done to help?

9. Thinking about the barriers that the mothers featured in the book faced, what do you think should be the next steps in combating malnutrition around the world? In your opinion, whose responsibility is it make sure that children in a community are properly nourished?

Educator Notes: 

The questions attached can be used to guide a discussion about Roger Thurow's The First 1,000 Days. Click here for a Common Core standards-aligned lesson plan that also includes extenstion activities to continue engaging students in the book.

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