Experts tell us that early language and literacy development begins in the first three years of life and that when young children are exposed to literary-rich environments –books, stories, language, crayons and paper – in their homes, day care, schools, out-of-school programs and camps, they begin their academic career and life journey on a solid path. Research also indicates that the majority of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade will struggle throughout school. They often never catch up.
According to Dr. Claire McCarthy, during the first three years of life, 700 new neural connections form in the brain every second. Those connections determine what children will be able to learn as they grow up. Equally important, she notes, are the interactions children have with adults during those three years which can literally define their future.
Yet in the U.S., the value of early learning is underrated and early learning opportunities are often neglected and underfunded. We need to make this an important agenda item on the dockets of both state and federal legislatures. Here’s the text of the Rally4Babies petition that I just sent to my Congressmen and women:
We’re a country that believes in giving everyone a fair shot at opportunity. But too many young children can fall behind even before they take their first steps. Research shows that babies and toddlers need positive early learning experiences with their parents and other caregivers in order to thrive.
Without the chance to participate in high-quality early childhood development and learning programs, gaps can appear early, sometimes even before a child’s first birthday. That means that by the time some children reach preschool, they are already playing catch-up.
The good news is that we have a number of high-quality programs and services in place to provide those positive early opportunities for children birth to five, including child care, Early Head Start, early intervention, and home visiting. What we need is for you, our elected leaders, to take the lead and adequately fund them by expanding investments in early learning that starts at birth.
I urge you to remember this: To ensure school success, start with the babies. When infants and toddlers get a strong start, our nation prospers. Learning happens from the start, and so should our investments in children.
When I was asked to categorize the petition topic before sending my email, the long list of issue options from one of my reps didn’t include a category remotely related to early learning, It’s clearly not on his agenda. No wonder funding always seems so precarious.
If you’re looking for more information about early childhood learning, here are some good early learning resources:
National Assn. for the Education of Young Children
Do you run a nonprofit organization in the Sudbury Foundation’s catchment area focused on enhancing early learning opportunities? You might want to take a look at our fall 2013 grant initiative focused on early education. Click here for more information.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Rappeneker