Business leaders, activists and even President Obama have recently brought increased attention to the importance of early childhood education and child care programs. This groundswell around the development in a child’s first five years of life has left parents wondering what the excitement is about.
Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician, author and member of the Primrose Schools Education Advisory Board, is a child development expert who believes in the importance of early childhood education. She employs four key connections to help explain why the first five years are critical for child development, offering tips to parents, care givers and early educators alike.
- Connecting the Neurons. Babies are born with more than 100 billion nerve cells in their brains. These neurons must connect and communicate with each other in order to form the circuits needed to think, learn, and succeed – something neurons do at the remarkable rate of 700 connections per second in the first five years of life. In fact, peak development of sensory pathways, such as hearing, vision and language pathways occurs during the first six months of life
- Making Connections with Caring, Responsive Adults. The everyday back-and-forth interactions adults have with babies – from babbling to singing, cooing and other responsive gestures – stand to shape brain development far more than parents and caregivers may have previously realized. Research from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reveals that a strong relationship between a caring responsive adult and a child is so powerful, it can literally serve as a protective buffer against the potentially neurotoxic effects of stress and adversity on the developing brain.
- Connecting Language and Literacy Skills with Future Life Success. Reading and talking to young children is fundamentally important to their development. Betty Hart and Todd Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas and authors of Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, examined language development and the effects of home experiences on young children in their landmark 1995 study. They found that children roughly began talking at the same age, but the level to which parents spoke to them – both frequency and quality of words spoken – had significant implications not only on their vocabularies by age 3, but additionally on their IQ, literacy skills and future academic success.
- Recognizing the Connection Between Early Skills and Workforce Development. All parents strive to raise happy, healthy and productive children, but new research is changing what we consider to be the skills necessary for success in the 21st century. Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed offers an insightful overview of an evolving educational paradigm shift. Instead of the more purely cognitive focus of decades past, parents, caregivers and early educators dedicated to raising children for success are now focusing on character traits, such as grit, perseverance and leadership skills; all of which can be fostered in early childhood, and are proving to be better predictors for success than IQ scores or standardized tests.
Parents, caregivers and early educators all play pivotal roles in the first five years of a child’s life. Understanding the rapid development that takes place during this critical stage of life and fostering these connections and skills will help shape the next generation of leaders.