Did you know that experiences between birth and age five matter significantly to a child’s long-term success, health, and emotional well-being? That means we need to focus on state policies that help kids get off to a good start! Here are five ways early childhood experiences can influence a child’s life forever.
- Babies that are breastfed grow up to be healthier kids, and are less likely to face obesity or diabetes as they grow older. Breast milk is uniquely suited to the infant’s nutritional needs. It protects against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children. We need policies that ensure breastfeeding mothers get the support and services they need, whether they're in the hospital, at home, in public, or trying to breastfeed at a child care center.
- Early interactions influence children’s brain architecture. Studies show that the brain develops in a healthy way in response to positive interactions with parents and child care providers. On the other hand, brain architecture is undermined by the toxic stresses introduced through interactions with abuse, hunger, or poverty. However, children are resilient, and can go on to have healthy and productive childhoods and adult lives if they get the support they need to overcome these negative interactions.
- A vast gap in language experiences already exists by age four. A famous study found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. Many kids will be playing catch up on day one of school if we don’t adopt policies to better support parents and improve early child development.
- High quality early childhood education makes a long-term difference in the development of our children. A meta-analysis spanning five decades and more than 120 studies show that quality preschool has a substantial impact on children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and school outcomes. According to the latest study of the Abecedarian Project, a well-known early education program, 30-year-olds who had been in the program as young kids had more years of education than peers who were part of a control group. Another early education program, the Perry Preschool Program, shows a 7-10 percent return on investment based on increased school and career achievements. In fact, many economists, including Nobel-prize winner James Heckman, report that investments in early education provide the greatest bang for our buck.
- Children in child care centers with small class sizes are more likely to get the attention they need to stay safe and develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally. Research indicates when groups are smaller and the child-to-caregiver ratios are lower, teachers can provide the quality interactions that facilitate learning and school readiness. Although a manageable class size is essential for high quality care, Texas currently allows 15 three-year olds to be supervised by a single caregiver. When 15 children are being cared for by one adult, it makes the simplest of tasks, such as reading a book to the class, more challenging. DFPS, the state agency that licenses child care providers, has warned that the state’s current standards are insufficient, stating in 2010 that, "….the agency does not believe that the current standards for group size….or ratios adequately protect the health and safety of children in some age ranges.” Reducing child-to-caregiver ratios can help keep kids safe and provide a higher-quality learning environment.