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What does Early Childhood Education mean?

There is an information overload on the subject of Early Childhood Education that can often intimidate parents. In simple words, all research suggests that babies have a huge capacity to learn through all the senses. The more stimulation they get through the different senses, the better their brain develops. This capacity to learn starts to slow down around the age of four.

Why do early learning programs matter? Advances in brain research show that children are born learning, and that their first years of life impact the success they experience later in school. Early experiences that are nurturing and active actually thicken the cortex of an infant’s brain, creating a brain with more extensive and sophisticated neuron structures that later determine intelligence and behavior. It also means that children who are exposed to more language and more caring interaction with adults have an advantage over their peers that grow up in stressful environments or have unresponsive caregivers.

The first five years are also when children build the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in school. On the first day of kindergarten, teachers expect children to be able to follow directions, start and finish projects, and know when they need to ask for help. Such “soft” skills are just as important as cognitive or “hard” skills—like being able to count, recite the alphabet, and write their names.

If a child can’t follow directions, he or she will have difficulty attending to the task of learning. Young children build these social-emotional skills through responsive relationships with parents and teachers. When children trust their caregivers to respond consistently to their needs, they learn to regulate their emotions and behavior. Strong social-emotional skills are the foundation of lifelong learning, which in future years help students succeed in school and adults hold steady jobs.

 

Diana Mendley Rauner is executive director of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which works to ensure that all American children have quality early childhood experiences during the first five years of life.