From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more rapidly than at any other time in life, making experiences in the early years critical to development and growth.
At birth, a child’s brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Astoundingly, it doubles in size in the first year and keeps growing to about 80 percent of adult size by age 3. By age 5, a child’s brain is 90 percent of adult size, according to Chris Bennet, CEO at Wonderchool. Bennet’s Silicon Valley-based company connects families to high quality childcare programs and preschools in homes, allowing teachers to live where they work in difficult housing markets like San Francisco.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient.
“Every interaction a child has with his or her environment is an opportunity for learning. In the first five years, daily activities — talking, singing, reading, playing — stimulate brain development and dramatically influence future health, learning and behavior,” wrote Dr. Bill Frist, a heart and transplant surgeon and former U.S. Senate majority leader, in an article in Too Small To Fail. Too Small To Fail is an initiative of the Clinton Foundation to public awareness and promote the importance of early brain and language development.
A child’s experiences in those early years, whether positive or negative, nurtured or neglected, directly affect how the brain develops, with a long-term impact on the child’s health and ability to learn and succeed in school and life.
Children who face distress in the first years of life are more at risk of experiencing lifelong effects from toxic stress.
Continued chronic, unrelenting stress during childhood caused by extreme poverty, repeated abuse or severe maternal depression can damage a child’s brain construction and lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
High-quality learning and care are important as they provide the support children need to build a foundation for a healthy and productive future.
A supportive learning environment from caring adults as early as possible can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress in children and reduce the risk of children experiencing developmental delays.
Waiting until kindergarten for a child to start learning is too late. Children who receive quality early education demonstrate greater cognitive and socioemotional growth than children who do not.
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