By focusing early in childhood on prevention and protective factors, quality care and learning can help children to grow up healthy.
Early Experiences Are Important Determinants of Adult Health Status
A child’s early experiences are lifelong determinants of health and well-being. Studies in neurobiology, neurodevelopment, and early intervention show that the years birth to school age are critically important for brain development. During this critical time, children develop the essential language and cognitive skills required to learn, develop their ability to manage emotions and stress, and learn to cooperate with others. Properly shaping the architecture of the brain in these earliest years of life has profound benefits in adult life.
Many of the risks for the diseases of adult life (e.g. heart disease) are, in part shaped by learning, coping, and decision-making skills that are set in the earliest years of life. These skills determine performance in the school system and set children onto life pathways that in turn, affect their health and well-being over time.
The Role of Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education plays a crucial role in children’s development. A key requisite for optimal healthy child development is secure attachment to a trusted caregiver, giving consistent caring, support and affection early in life. Coping skills are strongly influenced by how well children are “nurtured” during the early years of childhood. Spending one’s early years in an unstimulating, emotionally and physically unsupportive environment affects brain development in adverse ways, and leads to cognitive, social and behavioral delays.
Evaluation of quality early learning and care provision before the age of 5 years has found that it is associated with improvement in a range of educational and social measures, some of which have been documented many years after the care. In one of the studies, the Perry Preschool Project followed participants up to 27 years of age and showed that the people from the preschool group were more likely to have advantageous social outcomes such as high school graduation, employment, fewer arrests, higher earnings, and owning their own home than those who did not participate in the program. These findings have been confirmed by multiple other studies.