Early Child Development

Call it a remarkable confluence.

Findings from the fields of health and child development, neuroscience, social sciences, and economics come to the same conclusion: development of a child’s early language skills and literacy—starting from birth—is key to the health of a child, the family, the community, and our society as a whole.

Below are a few of the landmark studies and research on the importance and far-reaching ramifications of early childhood development.

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Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Early experiences affect the quality of that architecture by establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow.

In the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient.

In mid-2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

But while we know that reading to a young child is associated with good outcomes, there is only limited understanding of what the mechanism might be. Two new studies examine the unexpectedly complex interactions that happen when you put a small child on your lap and open a picture book.

Read “Bedtime Stories for Young Brains” — Dr. Perri Klass, The New York Times

Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

Evans said, “Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

Five simple strategies to parenting that enhance bonding and support healthy growth of babies from birth to 3 years old have been developed by Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University.

With “Fundamental Five,” which is a set of guidelines for parents and early caregivers, Ferguson seeks to influence parenting behavior and affect academic and social outcomes for children far down the road.

Eliminating persistent inequities that constrain the potential of poor and minority students will take more than just school-based improvements, say Ferguson. Research shows a gap in language, gesturing, and other developmental markers begins to open by age 2, Ferguson says — even though there are virtually no racial or social class differences in the mental abilities of infants before age 1.

Reading to very young children even before they have begun to identify letters can form an important foundation for vocabulary development and language skills later in life. This is especially true for lower-income families where offspring are more likely to fall behind in early language and cognitive achievement…. Therefore, programs that improve the awareness and ability of low-income parents and caregivers to read frequently to infant and toddlers may lead to important literacy gains in the school years.

In an official policy of June 2014, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatric providers promote early literacy development for children beginning in infancy and continuing at least until the age of kindergarten entry.

By the age of 4, an average child in a professional family accumulates experience with 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and a child in an average welfare family 13 million. This is the so-called “30 Million Word Gap” – findings from a study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley.

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma.

Researchers confirmed this link in a first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers.

Those seeking to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy should make significant investments in early childhood education, asserts Nobel Prize-winning James J. Heckman.

Professor Heckman’s ground-breaking work with a consortium of economists, psychologists, statisticians and neuroscientists shows that early childhood development directly influences economic, health and social outcomes for individuals and society. Adverse early environments create deficits in skills and abilities that drive down productivity and increase social costs—thereby adding to financial deficits borne by the public.