First lady Jill Biden joined Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton in the U.K. on Friday, visiting a classroom of young children before they were set to take part in a roundtable discussion of the importance of early childhood education.
The first lady and the duchess visited Connor Downs Academy in Hayle, West Cornwall.
Middleton, wearing a fuchsia dress, arrived to the school first, and greeted Dr. Biden, who wore a white dress and a bright pink blazer. The two chatted together as they walked toward the school.
Head of School Janice Eddy spoke to the reporters Friday, saying the academy is a “trauma informed school,” meaning they work with students who have experienced trauma in their lives. The school has a waiting list, and is state funded.
Eddy said the school has outdoor classrooms where children are able to plant vegetables and flowers and work with animals.
“Those animals are very much about supporting the children just to be in touch with the animals to understand empathy, to learn to care for them, to nurture the animals,” Eddy told reporters. “So we’ve got two families of rescued rabbits, and that children care for all children have access to, to the rabbits, and we also have battery hens.”
Eddy said the children have been learning about the White House, so they are aware of who the first lady is.
“They are quite aware of who’s coming,” Eddy told reporters. “And obviously incredibly excited in the way that a four or five year old can be. Perhaps not completely understanding.”
Middleton and Biden will take part in activities with the children, including showing them how they can help care for the rescued bunnies in the outdoor classrooms.
The first lady sounded out new words with the children, helped some with Legos and watched the children draw.
“It’s very important to the foundation,” Biden said Friday. “As a teacher at the upper levels if they don’t have a good foundation they fall so far behind.”
She added: “This is amazing to see how far advanced they are.”
Biden’s visit with the duchess came as President Biden made his first overseas trip since taking office. The president is set to participate in the G-7 Summit, the NATO Summit, meetings with the European Council and face-to-face meetings with world leaders.
Biden and Middleton’s representatives said they visited the school’s “Reception Class” to hear how its students are supported through the “Early Years Foundation Stage” curriculum, which uses child-led teaching to help its students to develop “as independent, confident and successful learners.”
Kensington Palace said the school, which delivers education to students ages 4 to 11, and works to “create a caring and challenging environment in which all pupils are encouraged to fulfill their potential.”
“The school recognises and values the importance of nurturing positive relationships and actively supports the mental health and wellbeing of both children and staff,” the palace said in a statement Friday.
Biden and Middleton took part in a roundtable with four early childhood experts from the United Kingdom—Professor Eamon McCrory, a professor of developmental neuroscience and psychopathology at the University College London; Dr. Trudi Seneviratne of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; and Ed Vainker, the CEO of Reach Foundation.
U.S. experts joined the roundtable discussion via Zoom and included Miriam Calderon, the deputy assistant secretary for early learning from the Department of Education; Miranda Lynch-Smith, the deputy assistant secretary for Human Services Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services; and Katie Hamm, the deputy assistant secretary for Early Childhood Development from HHS.
The first lady and the Duchess of Cambridge discussed the “importance of providing adequate support for parents and children alike during early childhood, and the positive impact that this can have across society.”
The palace said that the Duchess of Cambridge has “seen first-hand how the root cause of so many of today’s hardest social challenges – from poor mental health and addiction to family breakdown and homelessness – can be traced right back to the earliest years of life.”
The palace said she has “worked with experts and spent time listening to the sector, parents, families and carers about their experience of and work on the early years.”
The palace announced that the Duchess, next week, will “step up her work in this area, with a major announcement outlining how she will elevate the importance of early childhood and continue the conversation on this vital issue.”
Meanwhile, Biden spent her career as an English professor and former high school teacher, and as a reading specialist, and “has witnessed the struggle of students who lacked a solid foundation of early childhood care and education.”
“She, along with President Biden, are committed to increasing opportunities for all children and young people to grow, learn, and gain the skills they need to succeed,” her office said.
During the roundtable, the Duchess of Cambridge said she has “seen how important the first five years of the child’s development are,” saying that the “best investment in our future, health and happiness is in the first five years of life.”
The first lady, also discussed the effects of the pandemic, but said one of the “positive things has been that “both parents” are “pitching in.”
“I love that you’re educating dads and fathers,” Biden said. “For so long, it has been the mother caregiving.”
“The positive thing of the pandemic, we’ve seen both parents pitching in,” Biden continued. “Dads realizing it is hard.”
She added: “The pandemic has had a positive effect–Parents are now working with teachers closer–it is just such a fascinating discussion.”
The first lady traveled with the president to the United Kingdom this past Wednesday.
Sporting a jacket with the word “love” printed on the back on Thursday, the first lady told reporters the Bidens are “bringing love from America, trying to bring unity across the globe.”
“It is important for people to feel a sense of unity and hope after this year of the pandemic,” the first lady said.
When asked about the president’s preparations ahead of his European tour, the first lady said he has been “studying for weeks,” but noted that he “knows most of the leaders” that will be participating in the summits from his days as vice president in the Obama administration.
“He’s over-prepared,” Biden said.
During her time in the United Kingdom, the first lady will join the president in meeting Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
“Joe and I are looking forward to meeting the Queen,” she said. “We’ve looked forward to this for weeks.”
She added: “Its a beautiful beginning.”
The first lady is expected to travel back to the United States on Sunday after meeting with the Queen. The president is set to travel to Belgium ahead of the NATO summit.