Neurological research shows that the early years play a key role in children’s brain development.
Babies begin to learn about the world around them from a very early age – including during the prenatal, perinatal (immediately before and after birth) and postnatal period.
Children’s early experiences – the bonds they form with their parents and their first learning experiences – deeply affect their future physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.
Optimizing the early years of children’s lives is the best investment we can make as a society in ensuring their future success.
The early years of human development establish the basic architecture and function of the brain.
This early period of development, (conception to ages 6-8), affects the next stage of human development, as well as the later stages. We now better understand, through developmental neurobiology, how experience in early life affects these different stages of development.
Poor early development affects health (physical and mental), behaviour and learning in later life.
Early in life, sensitive periods occur in the brain when the child is disproportionately sensitive to the influences of the external environment. The interplay of the developing brain with the environment is the driving force of development. The process of early experience shaping brain and biological development in ways that influence development over the life course is known as biological embedding.
Learning starts in infancy, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life. Early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure. Success or failure at this stage lays the foundation for success or failure in school, which in turn leads to success or failure in post-school learning. Recent studies of early childhood investments have shown remarkable success and indicate that the early years are important for early learning. Moreover, early childhood interventions of high quality have lasting effects on learning and motivation. As a society, we cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene.
However, current policies regarding education and job training are based on fundamental misconceptions about the way socially useful skills embodied in persons are produced. By focusing on cognitive skills as measured by achievement of IQ tests, they exclude the critical importance of social skills, self-discipline and a variety of non-cognitive skills that are known to determine success in life. Furthermore, this preoccupation with cognition and academic “smarts” as measured by test scores to the exclusion of social adaptability and motivation causes a serious bias in the evaluation of the human capital interventions.