Most of a Child's Brain Development Occurs Before Kindergarten
The following post was written by Monica Bandy, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families Public Policy Office. She is a graduate student and a former Head Start teacher, who has been closely monitoring proposed early childhood education reform this summer.
“When it comes to brain circuitry, it’s better to get it right the first time than to try to fix it later” —Dr. Shonkoff
Watch Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, director for the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, highlight the importance of the early years on brain development.
Nearly 90 percent of brain growth takes place in a child’s first 2,000 days, long before he or she steps foot into kindergarten. Healthy brain development requires developmentally appropriate, positive, and intentional interaction. When children have access to stimulating learning environments and compassionate relationships with their parents and caregivers, their brains develop the connections necessary for success.
When a child is exposed to an environment that includes toxic stresses, such as poverty, the child’s brain circuitry is fundamentally altered—for the worse. This difference in brain development can place poor children far behind their more advantaged peers, making it more difficult to keep up in, and ultimately graduate from, school. The achievement gap appears long before children enter kindergarten, and this gap becomes much harder to close after age five.
Investments in early childhood education are proven to prevent these disparities before they start. Quality early childhood education helps develop the critical cognitive and socio-emotional skills that set the foundation for success in school and in life. We can prevent the achievement gap, improve graduation rates, and create better health and economic outcomes with early childhood education.
Right now, there is a rare window of opportunity to increase federal support of early learning. President Barack Obama proposed increased federal investments in early childhood education in his State of the Union address. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee passed increases to early childhood programs July 9. Regardless of politics, this issue is critical to every child in every state and community.
Now is the time to raise our voices in support of early childhood education. Quality early learning opportunities make every child, every family, and every community stronger.