When I hear terms like “early learning” my mind automatically goes to pre-kindergarten programs such as Head Start. While the research is clear about the importance of good, high-quality early childhood education to help prepare children for elementary school, it begins much sooner than age 3. Children don’t necessarily enter kindergarten with a sudden readiness to learn—they are quite literally born to learn. According to brain research, a child will learn more before they turn three than any other time in his or her life! That is simply amazing.
Early on there are crucial “windows of opportunity” in a child’s growth and development when the brain is prepared to receive and learn certain kinds of information for a specific system such as vision, hearing, language, emotions and motor. But the brain can be altered and sustain serious effects by negative experiences or the absence of appropriate stimulation. Parents and caregivers need to be aware of the need to build strong attachments and provide positive early experiences. Support for early childhood educational programs is vital in these days of No Child Left Behind, but access to quality Infant and Toddler programs, including access to programs offering parent education and support, is also an essential component for early learning. Focusing on preschool alone is not enough.