As a parenting book author, parenting specialist, and early childhood educator for many years, I pass on to you this well-researched and highly valued concept. “An enriched early learning environment in the first three to five years sets the stage for later success in school, and it is the R, S, & T of parenting—reading, singing, and talking to young children that hold the key.” In addition, “Of all the input young children receive in the early years, it is high quality and high quantity language that plays the biggest role.”
Every few years “news” about the early years (birth to three and continuing on to age five) emerges again. Each time it appears it is made to seem like the information is brand new and never been known before. However, people who have been studying this subject for many years know about it and are familiar with the many studies that have been done over time. Now it is my pleasure to fill you in from a historical perspective on what we know, how we know it, and most important of all, what we need to do about it for the benefit of our young children.
In the Far East the people plant a tree called the Chinese Bamboo. During the first four years they water and fertilize the plant with seemingly little or no results. Then in the fifth year they again apply water and fertilizer, and in five weeks’ time the tree grows ninety feet in height. Most Asian people know this story, and they know it for a very good reason—it helps them to understand how important it is to provide an enriched early educational environment for their children in the first five years. While each book you read to your child, song you sing, or individual conversation that you have does not in itself make a major impact, taken all together they have great value and make the world of difference. Your child knows, and now you know too, that what you do on a daily basis to enrich his or her environment is exactly what is needed to give him or her the best start possible.
In 1975 Professor Burton White from Harvard University completed 30 years of research with this research question. “What is it that is different in the lives of children who succeed in school from those who do not?” While he thought he was going to find out that it was because of what happens to children at ages four and five, he found out it was because of what happens to them from birth to age three. As a matter of fact, the research showed that children who were well developed by the time they are three were automatically predictive of being successful in school at age six. All of his research is documented in his book called The First Three Years of Life.
Almost 20 years later the Carnegie Commission carried the ball even further. They completed a multi-million dollar study in 1994 to answer this research question, “Why do we have so much crime and violence in this country?” While they thought they were going to find out that it was because of what happens to teens, young adults, and with our prison system, they discovered that it was because of kind of parent-child relationships children had in their first three years. Those deprived of nurturing love, guidance, support, protection, and educational stimulation were the ones who turned to crime and violence. This Carnegie Commission study confirmed what Burton White one had already alerted us to—the importance of early positive parent-child interactions. It then went one step further and told about probable consequences that can show up later on in adulthood for children who were not provided with that kind of solid positive foundation.
This story continued in 1997 with the publication of the book Meaningful Differences by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. It explained about the effects of early experiences on the brain. The study showed brain scans of young children who were exposed to different kinds of language. Those who experienced mostly phrases like “Go away; stop that; put that away” had small and under developed brains; while those who were exposed to longer nurturing sentences like “Come over here; how can I help you; let’s pay together” had brains that were larger and more well-developed. These differences were noted in the first three years with irreversible consequences beginning at age two.
According to a groundbreaking report released by the National Academies of Science, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: the Science of Early Childhood Development, parents structure experience and shape the environment within which a young child’s early development unfolds. Infants and toddlers need unhurried time with their parents to form the critical relationships with them that will serve as the foundation for social, emotional, and cognitive development. The better parents know their children, the more readily they will recognize even the most subtle cues that indicate what children need to promote their healthy growth and development. (Excerpted from the “Statement of Zero to Three Policy Center,” submitted to the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, by Matthew E. Melmed, J.D., Executive Director, Zero to Three, January 24, 2007)
Just recently in January 2015 National Geographic magazine published a feature article called The First Year of Life. According to this news by accomplished writer Yudhijit Bhattacharjee “the lightening pace of development in these early years coincides with the formation of a vast skein of neural circuits. At birth the brain has nearly a hundred billion neurons, as many as in adulthood. As the baby grows, receiving a flood of sensory input, neurons get wired to other neurons, resulting in some hundred trillion connections by age three. Different stimuli… help establish different neural networks. Circuits get strengthened through repeated activation.” Each circuit that gets activated represents learning, and learning on the baby toddler level is an everyday all-day-long rapid-fire process.
Here is the 2019 extension out of Harvard University from their Center on the Developing Child. “More than one million neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of life.” Remember what we know about learning? Neural circuits are it, and they are strengthened by repetition.
What Is a Parent to Do?
Provide the most optimal environment at all times! It is summed up in one word “love,” and parents know how to do that best! Then everything else flows from there. Talk, talk, and talk more as you hug, touch and play. Act natural and be yourself. That is what works. All children thrive on love because it is open, honest, and most of all fun.”Every child is entitled to having the finest experiences, and every parent should know how to provide them. There is not a moment to waste.”