The Importance of Early
positive early childhood development so important?
Early brain development ...
What does the research tell us?
What does this mean for children and families?
What does it mean for professionals, communities and society?
What it means for young children, families,
and our community's future
New insights into brain development affirm
what many parents and caregivers have known
good prenatal care,
warm and loving attachments between young children and adults, and
positive stimulation from the time of birth
... really do make a difference in children's
development for a lifetime.
In June 1996, Families and Work Institute held a conference at the University
of Chicago entitled "Brain Development in Young Children: New Frontiers for
Research, Policy and Practice." Convening professionals from the
neurosciences, medicine, education, human services, the media, business, and
public policy, the conference focused on what we know about the developing brain
and how that knowledge can and should inform efforts to improve results for
children and their families.
The following is taken from "Rethinking the
Brain:New Insights into Early Development" by Families and Work Institute.
What have we learned?
Human development hinges on the interplay between nature and nurture.
The impact of environmental factors on the young child's brain development
is dramatic and specific, not merely influencing the general direction of
development, but actually affecting how the intricate circuitry of the human
brain is "wired."
How humans develop and learn depends critically and continually on the
interplay between an individual's genetic endowment and the nutrition,
surroundings, care, stimulation, and teaching that are provided or withheld.
Early care has decisive and long-lasting effects on how people develop and
learn, how they cope with stress, and how they regulate their own emotions.
Warm and responsive early care helps babies thrive and plays a vital role
in healthy development. A child's capacity to control her own emotional state
appears to hinge on biological systems shaped by her early experiences and
attachments. A strong, secure attachment to a nurturing adult can have a
protective biological function, helping a growing child withstand the ordinary
stress of daily life.
The human brain has a remarkable capacity to change, but timing is
The brain itself can be alteredor helped to compensate for problemswith
appropriately timed, intensive intervention. In the first decade of life, the
brain's ability to change and compensate is especially remarkable.
There are optimal periods of opportunity"prime times" during which the
brain is particularly efficient at specific types of learning.
The brain's plasticity also means that there are times when negative
experiences or the absence of appropriate stimulation are more likely to have
serious and sustained effects.
Early exposure to nicotine, alcohol, and drugs may have even more harmful
and long lasting effects on young children than was previously suspected.
These risk factors frequently are associated
with or exacerbated by poverty.
For children growing up in poverty,
economic deprivation affects their nutrition, access to medical care,
the safety and predictability of their physical environment, the level
of family stress, and the quality and continuity of their day-to-day
Evidence amassed by neuroscientists and child development experts over the
last decade point to the wisdom and efficacy of prevention and early
Well designed programs created to promote healthy cognitive, emotional, and
social development can improve the prospectsand the quality of lifeof many
The efficacy of early intervention has been demonstrated and replicated in
diverse communities across the nation.
Where do we go from here?
First do no harm.
that guides medical practice should
also apply to policies and practices that affect children.
Allow parents to fulfill their all-important role in providing and
arranging for sensitive, predictable care for their children.
Parents need more information about how the kind of care they provide
affects their children's capacities.
Implement policies that support parents in forming strong, secure
attachments with their infants in the early months, and make a concentrated
effort to improve the quality of early care and education.
Prevention is best, but when a child needs help, intervene quickly and
Warm, responsive care cushions children from the occasional bumps and
bruises that are inevitable in everyday life.
If children are given timely, intensive help, many can overcome a wide
range of developmental problems.
To have greatest impact, interventions must be timely and must be
followed up with appropriate, sustained services and support.
Promote the healthy development and learning of every child of every
age, every demographic description, and every risk category.
If we miss opportunities to promote healthy
development and learning, later remediation may be more difficult and expensive,
and may be less effective.
Improve health and protection by providing health care coverage for new
and expectant parents and their young children.
Implications for policy and practice
Preventive health screenings, well-baby care, timely immunizations and
attention to children's emotional and physcal development is cost-effective
and provides a solid foundation for good health and development.
Promote responsible parenthood by expanding proven approaches.
All parents can benefit from solid information and support as they raise
Parent education/family support programs that promote the healthy
development of children and improve the well-being of parents are cost
Safeguard children in early care and education from harm and promote their
learning and development.
The nation's youngest children are the most likely to be in unsafe,
substandard child care.
More than one-third are in situations that can be detrimental to their
development, while most of the rest are in settings where minimal learning is
Enable communities to have the flexibility and the resources they need to
mobilize on behalf of young children and their families.
Support efforts to create the kind of community you and your children want
to be a part of, develop goals and strategies for achieving this vision,
determine how to finance your efforts, and make provisions for measuring your
Research taken from Rethinking the BrainNew Insights into Early
Development and Conference ReportBrain Development in Young Children:
New Frontiers for Research, Policy and Practice, organized by the
Families and Work Institute, June 1996.
JumpStart gratefully acknowledges the National Association for the Education of Young
Children (NAEYC) for permission to use the copyrighted material above on our
website. Visit NAEYC online for
additional information on this and many other topics.
Read more about:
EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children (Carnegie Corporation, 1994)
Find additional resources on the "learn
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