Why is it so important to ensure that children have quality care and educational experiences in the earliest years of life? A nurturing and supportive environment during a child’s first years lays the foundation for future success in school and life. To truly appreciate why this time of life is so crucial, it helps to understand a little bit about brain science and development.
The First Years of Life: What Does Science Tell Us?
During the first several years of a child’s life, the brain forms over one million neural connections every second.
Babies’ brains are quite literally wired to learn. This rapid absorption of information creates new neural connections and builds the architecture of a baby’s brain. For comparison, adult brains have thicker, but fewer, synaptic connections.
This makes adults more efficient at doing what they’ve done before (e.g., speaking, writing and reading) but less effective at learning new things, such as a foreign language.
The above figure illustrates the rapid rate at which synapses are formed in the first few years of life. One can see that adults have thicker, but fewer synaptic connections.
Everything in a child’s environment — experiences, relationships with parents and caregivers and environmental factors — influences brain development and growth.
It is no surprise, then, that early experiences have a profound impact on a child’s future ability to succeed in school, work and life.
The Importance of Early Interventions
Secure and nurturing early childhood experiences form strong neural connections, which enable children to acquire language and communication skills, learn how to interact with people and their surroundings, and develop the ability to regulate their emotions.
Sadly, too many children — especially those living in poverty — face chronic stress and adversity which hinder their ability to learn and increase their chances of falling behind developmentally and academically for years to come. Fortunately, there’s a wide body of research that demonstrates that interventions, particularly in the first years of life, make a difference.
Studies on high-quality, comprehensive early childhood programs, such as the Carolina Abecedarian Project, the Perry Preschool Project, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, as well as Educare schools, demonstrate that early childhood interventions promote positive results in emotional development, school readiness, academic achievement and family life.
How Does the Science on Brain Development Influence Our Research on Early Interventions?
The research conducted at Start Early (formerly known as the Ounce) is anchored by science. Building upon decades of studies on brain development and early childhood education, we conduct high-quality research and help translate this research into practice — with the goal of improving outcomes for children and families early in life.