The science is clear and becoming more obvious every year. There is not a learning readiness or brain development gap at birth. There is a gap by age 3. Why, then, is there so little discussion of the education of children from birth to 3?
It is not that we don’t know what babies need in order to develop language, understanding of spatial relationships, a healthy body and a eagerness to learn. It is not that mothers and other caregivers are not committed to what is best for the babies in their care.
The primary problem is that state and local educational resources largely exclude infants and toddlers. Until there is at least parity in the allocation of resources, we will continue to engage in a futile “catch up” exercise in addressing the gap between white and children of color, between families who have resources and those who don’t.
Our institutions and public resources are heavily weighted toward “later education.” Even when there are efforts to focus on “early education,” the resources and programs are focused on 4- and 5-year-olds, with infants and toddlers remaining invisible and shut out of educational resources. A prime example is the 2013 Legislature’s budget, which adds money for increased kindergarten hours and preschool scholarships for 4-year-olds.
If we are to be successful in addressing the learning and achievement gap we must start where it begins and where we can have the most impact. There are many programmatic approaches, but the key issue is the lack of funding and resources for educational support from birth to 3.
The following are some resources that may illuminate the importance of the first three years of education and development. Please note, read carefully. Even scientists and researchers often talk about brain and language development in the first five years of life. A closer look reveals that nearly all of this early development is concentrated in the first three years of life. Yet resources and programmatic efforts often are concentrated on years 4 and 5, repeating educational mistakes of the past — “too little too late.” Furthermore, such an approach further impoverishes the educational ecosystem and resources available to nurture children from birth to 3.
- Patricia Kuhl and Andre Meltzoff, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences – University of Washington. Aspen Ideas Festival: The “Big Bang” in Learning: Brain Changes and Childhood Learning and a “Big Bang” presentation on YouTube
- Harvard University: Center on the developing child: “InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development” and “The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do“
- New York Times report, October 2013 Language-Gap Study
- Zero to Three: Changing the Course for Infants and Toddlers – A Survey of State Child Welfare Policies and Initiatives September 2013
Jim Nicholie holds a master’s in Human development from Pacific Oaks College and has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for 45 years. Most recently he directed the YWCA Child Care Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital for nine years. Nicholie is retired and lives in Minneapolis.
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