Seventeen years ago, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine released a report that has become a landmark in the field of child development.
The report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, opened a national discussion of early child development and its broader implications for our society. It massively documented and discussed how a child develops from infancy through entrance to school and it forced a discussion of the need for high quality early child care in America.
In 2015, after more than a decade of growing public advocacy on the need for programs providing such care and two years after President Obama first called upon Congress to provide funding for a national early child care program, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine brought out a new report focusing on what has been learned since the 2000 publication of Neurons to Neighborhoods.
Writing about the new report, Transforming the Workforce for Children From Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, in the January 2016 Zero to There Journal (Vol. 36, No.3), Ross A. Thompson, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, highlights some of significant advances that researchers have learned about early child development in the past 15 years.
Among its many conclusions were:
- A more advanced knowledge of human development has led to a clearer understanding of the relationship between biology and experience. Biology continually interacts with environment to guide learning and development.
- Nurturing human relationships in infants, toddlers, and young children are the “active ingredients” of healthy development. Relationships are central to early learning.
- Learning is more than just acquiring cognitive skills. Children’s social skills and emotional health are as important in preparing them for school as language and math skills.
- Disadvantages stemming from social and economic backgrounds creates “striking disparities” in development that sharply hinder later school success.
- Chronic stress caused by environmental factors such as poverty, family friction and other conditions impedes early learning and healthy development.
- The study of early brain development needs to include pre-natal care and children older than three.
- Early childhood programs are fragmented and need a more unified approach nationwide if the needs of young children are to be met.
The new study notes that there is still, even 15 years after Neurons to Neighborhoods, an unacceptable gap between current knowledge of early child development and the implementation of that knowledge in programs that support young children and their families. While the report summarizes some new research into the science of early development and learning, its focus is on the professionals who provide care and education for children from birth to eight years old.
It raises issues such as the implications of the science of early development for the preparation of a force of professionals that will competently support children’s development from birth through early school entry. What do they need to know? How should they be trained and supported? What public policies would contribute to the development of an integrated system of services that best prepares young children for successful learning in the years that follow.
The complete report may be obtained by contacting the Zero to Three Journal online. There is a fee for the service.