United Way Born Learning: The Case for Action

The Case for Action

Quality early learning experiences for all children are a key driver of school readiness, vital to improving high school graduation rates and critical to a community’s economic success. A child’s early years, from birth until school age, are a unique period of growth and development. In fact, 85 percent of the brain’s development happens before kindergarten. Learning to walk and talk, beginning to think independently, understanding how to communicate and learning to control impulses and emotions – are all critical early learning skills that build the necessary foundation for successful future learning.

Four decades of research show that high quality early childhood experiences, inside and outside the home, can make a significant difference for children, creating a vital pathway for success in school and life. Children’s brains are being hard-wired in the first five years for future learning: communications, social/emotional skills and critical early learning skills are formed in these early years.

  • Research in neuroscience shows the critical impact that relationships between children and caregivers have on the developing brain during the first months and years of life.
  • Brain development research also demonstrates that social, emotional and intellectual learning are inextricably linked. Supportive relationships and healthy interactions actually shape brain circuits and lay a foundation for academic and developmental successes. Developing positive behaviors during the early years is critical, as brain circuits are actively developing during that time.
  • Positive early learning experiences, at home and in other settings, can make a significant difference for children from the moment they’re born.

Just as a solid foundation can support a house, the fundamental support of early learning makes a tremendous difference in the long run. It impacts not just how children do or behave in kindergarten, but whether they’ll be reading well by third grade, succeeding in eighth grade or graduating high school. The skills we look for in workers – critical thinking, problem solving, and working on teams – are all built on the foundation of those early years. On the other hand, chronic stressors in the early years – like persistent poverty, poor health and nutrition, absent parents and homelessness – can dramatically weaken that foundation.

Parents are a child’s first teacher, but they often underestimate their contribution to their children’s school readiness. Many families don’t know exactly what to do to encourage early learning, or feel they don’t have time to do what it takes to prepare their child for school.

Many children from low-income families begin school already far behind. The research shows that these children are less likely to be read to or spoken to regularly or to have access to books, literacy-rich environments, high-quality early care, and pre-kindergarten programs. As a consequence, these children are:

  • 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
  • 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60 percent less likely to attend college
  • 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

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