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Are we Crazy about our Kids?

August 8, 2013



Julia Auch, Early Childhood Literacy Specialist

Julia Auch, Early Childhood Literacy Specialist

The primary influence on a child’s life is parenting, concluded the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in a mega-study in 2006. One can easily transfer this finding to caregivers in early childhood programs, who spend more time with young children than their own parents, in many cases. Either way you slice it, it’s about the importance of early experiences on the developing child.

I spoke in my last blog about the dividends that early care and education pay to our country in things like less high school drop outs, less teenage pregnancy, less crime, more people working, and becoming productive tax payers that contribute to society. In the one before that, I mentioned the Too Small to Fail initiative, and their thought that our country must gather child development experts, parents, private sector leaders, and other stakeholders in a major, national discussion that helps further advance understanding of the science of early childhood development. One of these stakeholders is Nobel prize-winning Professor James Heckman; a professor of economics.

Advocates like Heckman argue that spending in these early years has the highest return on investment. Shaping a baby, Heckman says, is easier than saving a delinquent teenager or unemployed adult. Preschools, according to this logic, pay off more than welfare, prisons, or even universities. That’s huge! Recent neuroscience – which suggests the brain is most malleable before age three – backs this up. I would encourage you to check out what he has to say:

Simon Kuper, at Financial Times Magazine, says that for now, most societies still neglect the first three years. “California inspects cemeteries more often than childcare facilities” notes The Raising of America, California Newsreel’s forthcoming documentary series about early childhood.

I had a chance to view Are We Crazy About our Kids? – a compelling documentary and would like to urge you to do the same.

The film identifies a handful of early childhood studies that took place in the United States, the HighScope Perry Preschool Study in particular, which collected longitudinal data over the last 40 years; tracking the progress of the kiddos that participated in this pilot preschool program. That’s all I’m going to give you because I want you to view this documentary for yourself.

The film asks us, “If research from our own country’s experiments is inspiring governments around the world, why haven’t we applied these lessons ourselves?” That’s a great question, isn’t it.

According to the film maker, children from at-risk environments look like children who have disabilities, when what they really have is a lack of opportunity. For example, the average American child of college-educated parents knows about 1,200 words, according to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. The average child of parents on welfare knows 400. The gap rarely closes after that. These children, that are in daycare right now, will be running our country before you know it. It’s bad enough that we don’t want to invest in THEIR FUTURES, but their futures are directly related to OUR FUTURES. I can’t wrap my head around how this is allowed to continue.

I welcome a continued dialogue, as always.

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