The Importance of Early Childhood Development
Current research indicates the emotional, physical and intellectual environment that a child is exposed to in the first few years of his or her life has a profound impact on brain development. The experience that infants and toddlers have with parents and caregivers will influence how a child functions when he or she reaches school and later in life.
During the first three years of life, the early physical architecture of a child's brain is established. Research has proved a number of important points:
At birth, the brain is remarkably unfinished. The parts of the brain that handle thinking and remembering, as well as emotional and social behavior, are very underdeveloped.
In the early years, a child develops basic brain and physiological structures upon which later growth and learning are dependent.
The brain operates on a "use it or lose it" principle. Emotionally and socially, the child develops many of the abilities required to function socially, later in life.
The brain matures in the world, rather than in the womb, thus, young children are deeply affected by their experiences.
Their relationships with parents and other important caregivers, the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings they encounter, and the challenges they meet, affect the way a child's brain develops.
The early years of a child's life form the foundation for later development. Attention to young children is a powerful means of preventing later difficulties, such as developmental delays and disturbances. Physical, mental, social, and emotional development and learning are interrelated. Progress in one area affects progress in the others. This means we must pay attention to all of the needs of children, including:
Physical development: Meeting children's basic needs for protection, nutrition and health care.
Cognitive development and social/emotional development: Meeting children's basic needs for affection, security, social participation and interaction. It also includes educational needs through intellectual stimulation, exploration, imitation, trial and error, discovery and experimentation within a safe and stimulating environment.
Strategic Results Sought by Proposition 10
Activities sponsored with Proposition 10 funds are expected to focus specifically on children prenatal to age 5 and their families. Further, according to state level guidelines, they should address the following four items:
- Improved Child Health: Healthy Children.
Children who are healthy in mind, body, and spirit grow with confidence in their ability to live a fulfilling, productive life. Healthy children have sufficient nutrition, health care, nurture and guidance, mental stimulation, and belong to families and communities that value them. The research on child development and the impact of the early years emphasizes the importance of children beginning life with healthy nutrition and healthy environments.
- Improved Child Development: Children Learning and Ready for School.
Preparing children to succeed in school is critical. The role of education in a child's ability to create a healthy, fulfilling life has been well documented. Skills that allow one to problem-solve and think creatively are developed in early childhood education settings and nurtured through community and parental reinforcement. The National Association of Elementary School Principals has stated that "better childhoods" would be the single greatest contributor to improvement in school achievement.
- Improved Family Functioning: Strong Families.
Successful and strong families are those that are able to provide for the physical, mental and emotional developement of their children. Young children are entirely dependent upon caregivers for survival and nurturing. It is the interaction between the parent or primary caregiver and the child that shapes the child's self-image as someone capable of interacting successfully with the world. Parents and caregivers provide the foundation for a child's ability to create successful relationships, solve problems and fulfill responsibilities. Children who are encouraged to develop a strong self-image from an early age are more likely to lead a productive and fulfilling life.
- Improved Systems: Integrated, Consumer-Oriented, Accessible Services.
Many parents and caregivers with young children have difficulty in accessing existing forms of assistance, much less learning about and utilizing new services that are introduced. Proposition 10, therefore, included a mandate that strategic plans created by County Children and Families Commissions must show how each county will promote integration, linkage and coordination among programs, service providers, revenue resources, professionals, community organizations and residents. Further, services must be available in a culturally competent manner, embracing the differences in cultures and languages within the county. The system of children and family services should also recognize the challenges faced by families whose children have disabilities or other special needs, and work to make services more accessible to these families.
For more information on how First 5 Kings County addresses these four areas of impact for children and families, please refer to our .