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Do Early Childhood Experiences Really Count?

— National Association for the Education of Young Children
Updated on Mar 13, 2009

Why question the value of early childhood experiences?

A new book, The Myth of the Early Years by Dr. John T. Bruer has raised questions about the importance of providing children with high-quality early childhood programs. From the author's perspective, recent publicity about early brain development research has led parents, educators, and policy makers to place too much emphasis on children's early learning experiences. He argues that neuroscience research actually provides evidence that learning and cognitive development occurs throughout life.

Dr. Bruer states that providing enriching environments to stimulate early brain development may be less important than identifying and treating children's vision problems, ear infections, or developmental delays.

What do high-quality programs do to support children’s healthy development and learning?

Early childhood professionals with training in child development are aware of the need to attend to all aspects of children's development. Good programs offer activities and services to promote each child's physical, social, and emotional development, as well as children's cognitive development. They also provide the support that families need to ensure the well-being of their children.

What does research tell us?

ZERO TO THREE, a leading organization that focuses on early child development responded to Bruer's book stating, "We know from rigorous psychological and sociological research, and from compelling clinical experience, that early childhood is a time when infants and toddlers acquire many skills needed to become productive, happy adults."

Researchers have found children who attend high-quality early childhood programs do gain skills normally associated with greater brain development, such as problem solving and language, math, and literacy skills. They also gain other kinds of competencies such as self-control, a higher motivation for learning and social skills. Families benefit too as they access needed services, develop parenting skills, and participate in an atmosphere that promotes meaningful family involvement.

What is important for young children's early development?

Good early childhood experiences do count tremendously, but providing children with an early childhood education means much more than making them smarter, earlier. Young children need meaningful learning opportunities to develop skills, competencies, a sense of self, and a foundation for learning throughout life.

As stated by ZERO TO THREE in their press release, "Efforts to help all children achieve the basic skills of trust, motivation, and self-control needed for later intellectual and emotional development should not be aimed at creating super-babies, or giving anxious parents one more thing to worry about, or overambitious parents one more reason to push their children."

"Our aim should be to ensure that all children reach school age with a solid foundation for learning and relating to others, and that all parents know what they can do to help their children develop. In the last decade, the United States has made important progress in recognizing the needs of young children. Businesses have made efforts to provide services to families. Parents are increasingly interested in how best to encourage and prepare their children. Taking to heart many of the negative messages of The Myth of the First Three Years can only set back these efforts. Our nation's youngest citizens deserve better."

Resources

What are the benefits of high quality early childhood programs? 1996. NAEYC order #540.

Raising a reader, raising a writer. 1998. NAEYC order #530.

Web site for ZERO TO THREE: http://www.zerotothree.org

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