Why Early Childhood?
High-quality early childhood education is one of the best opportunities we can give all young children to help shape brain architecture.
The Early Years Matter
The opportunity to shape the brain is greater in early childhood than in any other time in a person’s life. Over a decade of research highlights that 90% of a child’s brain develops over the first five years of life. More than one million new neural connections are formed every second in the first years of life. It is the shaping of this early brain architecture that lays a solid foundation upon which future learning and development builds.
Adults play a critical role in supporting early brain development. Children’s interactions and relationships with their parents, caregivers, teachers, and community create and reinforce their brain’s neural networks to promote both their short- and long-term success.
Nobel Prize-winning Economics Professor James Heckman concluded that high-quality birth-to-five early education experiences provide a 13% return on investment. The return is lifelong—children in effective early childhood programs are more likely to finish college, get high-paying jobs, and be healthier and happier later in life.
The Barriers to High-Quality ECE
Although access to preschool has increased in recent years, too few children experience high-quality early childhood education from birth to eight. Why is that?
- Black and Hispanic children, who are disproportionately affected by economic inequity and systemic racism, are less likely to experience high-quality early childhood education compared to their white peers.
- Children who come from low-income backgrounds are also less likely to have access to high-quality early childhood education compared to their economically advantaged peers.
- Policies do not ensure that students facing multiple barriers are in early childhood settings in which they can thrive, or that investments are made in programs in under-resourced communities.
- Furthermore, COVID-19 has produced a widespread significant negative impact on the children from communities of color and families with low-income backgrounds, heightening the existing disparities.
- Early childhood teachers in private and family settings often make below the minimum wage.
- Many teachers need more training, support, and resources to develop the skills needed to support young children’s cognitive and social development.
- Children spend too much time in activities that do not maximize their learning and development.
- The COVID-19-related school closures and loss of ECE programs have resulted in many more young children losing access to essential early learning opportunities. Notably in 2020, preschool enrollment decline was 4 times larger for children from low-income backgrounds, and larger among children that were Black or Hispanic.
An investment in the early years of life is one of the best investments we can make
Early Investment Leads to Success
High-quality early childhood education provides opportunities to reduce achievement inequities. When children have what they need to thrive, the results are long-lasting for children, families, and the community.
To make this vision a reality, researchers, community leaders, and policy makers are working together with input from families and educators to translate what we know about effective early childhood education into the practice of what we do.