Early Childhood Matters.
Early Childhood Development and its Impact on Children’s Lives
1. Introduction
Recently published by UNICEF, the ‘Early Childhood Development and Disability: A Discussion Paper’, available for download on the University of Manchester website, makes for fascinating reading for any of us involved in the study of early childhood and its impacts. The introduction provides a useful definition and scope to the area and outlines the content well. For anyone seeking to understand more about the impacts of work in this area, the paper is a very good start indeed. As the paper outlines, the promotion of Early Childhood Development (ECD) is important across the world. ECD refers to physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional well-being of children in the years that precede schooling. These years, often from birth to six years of age, have been demonstrated, the paper tells us, to be a period of particularly rapid and significant brain development. Specifically, the paper explains the importance of movement and sensory development alongside an additional argument: that the promotion of ECD – understood as a form of preventative policy making – can offer a cost-effective means of improving the realization of rights for children. This notion is something that the paper will later return to and provide an extended discussion of.
1.1 Importance of Early Childhood Development
Early childhood, defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children must receive high quality services to support all areas of their development and ensure positive long-term outcomes. If we consider economic and research evidence on the positive effect of quality early childhood programs, the benefits are substantial to children and to the communities where the programs are taking place. Preschool children are still in the process of understanding the rules of society and how to cooperate with other people. In recent years, there is a rise of immigrants from different countries. Children with different cultural and language backgrounds need to learn how to connect with others. Social experiments show that exposure to antisocial behavior will increase the antisocial behavior of the individual involved in the experiment. This not only applies to preschool children, but to babies in the first year of their life. If there is no consistent loving care and nurturing, the nervous system of babies will not operate well. It is highly likely that these damaged nerves will cause permanent injury to the brain as the body finds it more difficult to respond to hormonal and immunological changes. Also, children with higher stress in early life will have a lower or longer stress response which will lead to illnesses. High quality early childhood programs are required to have the facilities in place to support children with disabilities or developmental delay. An effective program aims to keep parents well-informed every step in the process, from assessment to program implementation and periodic evaluation. Such programs usually emphasize an integrated system focusing on the health and early intervention system to support the families with young children. Coordinated efforts among agencies, local governments, and non-profit organizations are essential for the design and implementation in building the effective system. In the United States, the combination of state and federal funds, the impacts of the Social Security Act, and the provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have created public insurance and special education programs that serve young children. However, studies suggest that both healthcare professionals and parents often experience a delay in diagnosis for young children who are suspected of having autism. This is because, due to the complex nature of autism and the broad range of associated behaviors, a parent who raised a concern to the family doctor may be told to monitor the child’s development without an initial diagnostic service. This is a barrier in early childhood programs; cooperation between parents and diagnosing healthcare professionals may provide a solution in a way that parents are engaged in assessment and services.
1.2 Definition and Scope of Early Childhood Development
Early childhood development is a multidisciplinary field that draws on knowledge from various related fields such as psychology, sociology, social work, early childhood education, and public health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in its publication “Early Childhood Development and Disability: A Discussion Paper,” the term “early childhood development” refers to the physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive development that a child experiences in the first six years of life. However, as the same publication highlights, early childhood development is not just limited to these changes that we can easily see and measure. Rather, it is defined as the changes that children experience in the important abilities that help them grow up – in every way – that lay the foundation for well-being and doing well in school and in the larger world. The term “early childhood” is applicable to the youngest of children from birth up to the age of 8 or 9. However, most of the researchers in the field of early childhood development agree that young children – namely from birth to the age of five years – are subjected to the most rapid changes as compared to any other developmental period across the lifespan. This is particularly the reason why early childhood development focuses on intervention and providing a positive environment for children, because even from this early stage, they are thought to be able to benefit from the right sort of environment and stimuli which can help them reach their full potential. From a global perspective, early childhood development is deemed to be a crucial determinant of health and development of children. A supportive and healthy environment during the early years provide the building blocks that are needed for a person to grow up healthy and to reach their full potential as an adult. Subsequently, support for early childhood development has garnered increasing political weight and as a result, many governments around the world are making more and more investments into the early years; namely increasing provisions for maternal and early childhood health and also putting money into home visiting programs and better pediatric services. With knowledge of early childhood development, experts in this field are able to provide parents and carers with the evidence that they need to make informed decisions about what is best for young children, supporting childhood and lessons learnt to carry on into adulthood. It is not only a collective responsibility for the government to provide a comprehensive support for this field but also a necessity for parents and carers to work hand in hand with experts to ensure that each and every child is given the best possible environment to grow and to develop.
2. Factors Influencing Early Childhood Development
Biological factors can have a particularly large impact on early childhood development. For instance, we know that malnutrition has a detrimental effect on cognitive development. Over a long period, an inadequate diet can lead to reduced intelligence; equally, a serious deficiency of certain key nutrients can also lead to specific cognitive problems. In the short term, malnutrition can cause overactivity and anxiety. This again shows that there is a two-way relationship between physical and cognitive development – they do not act independently. As well as helping to support high-quality physical care, it is important that environments are created in the early years which help to promote language development – a crucial cognitive skill. For example, live and meaningful conversation with an adult, extending and building on children’s own communication attempts and using language to help solve problems or reflect on experiences; using language in this way can help to develop cognitive and problem-solving skills. Another example of cognitive development being closely linked to physical development is the building of fine and gross motor skills. Through the refinement of control over the “small muscles” (e.g. those in the fingers and hand) and the “large muscles” (e.g. those in the back and legs), children are better able to explore and make sense of the world in which they live. This understanding can be applied when looking at physical and cognitive development.
2.1 Biological Factors
Moreover, children’s early experiences will of course include close relationships with other people, i.e. parents, childminders, nursery nurses and pre school teachers. It has been suggested that the formation of friendships between young children can be explained as mainly due to emotional development, focusing on the communication that develops and the ability to match social and emotional states of others. Buddy schemes are often set up in pre schools and nursery classes, but early experiences would need to identify children who could benefit from such interventions. It is recommended that the role of close relationships, such as with a main carer in the early years, should be the key factor for consideration when trying to promote social development and the transition from babyhood to independence. This would support the current importance placed on the work of psychologists such as Bowlby and the formulation that children’s formation of good strong emotional bonds at an early age is the key contributory factor for successful social development. Also, in his studies Bowlby proposed the concept of the mother having a primary role in the child’s attachment. This would have been a valid assumption through the 1960s and 1970s when the main carer was most likely to be the mother. However, times have changed and it is acknowledged by the current guidelines that attachments can form with any caregiver who is most often sensitive to the child’s needs as it is the stability of the relationship which provides for successful social development.
Second, advances in brain imaging technologies have allowed researchers and scientists to learn how the brain develops in response to different experiences, a concept called neuroplasticity. These different experiences can range from their environment, to the care and nurturing which is provided by parents. Such as, babies and young children not getting enough good quality care and stimulation can lead to a range of developmental problems, both intellectual and emotional. When young children experience severe, repeated or prolonged stress, the associated increase in the hormone cortisol can damage the developing brain and can lead to both short and long term problems, including developmental and behavioural problems and a tendency to anxiety and depression as the child gets older. Children who have been neglected, who have been close to absence of care and stimulation, develop slowly and may have development delayed to such an extent that irreparable damage is caused to the brain.
First, the genes that children inherit from their parents contribute to their early development. Genes direct the formation of the brain circuits that control developmental processes, and they continue to modulate the operation of these circuits throughout life. However, the most rapid development of the brain takes place in the early years, and this is when the effects of genes are most likely to be apparent. Genetic influences on development can be both direct and indirect. For example, a direct genetic influence on brain development would include a genetic disorder that first becomes symptomatic in a child’s early years, while an indirect genetic influence would include a parent passing on a genetic predisposition to a particular disease or developmental disorder.
2.2 Environmental Factors
Environmental factors can have a major impact on early childhood development. The home environment, the immediate social environment with friends and family, and the physical environment are all important. Children who grow up in a cluttered, chaotic, or noisy environments may have more difficulty with cognitive tasks than children who grow up in a calm and ordered household. Research has suggested that exposure to toxic substances in the environment – such as lead, mercury, and air pollution – can also have a negative impact in the short and long term. This may affect a child’s cognitive development, stress response, and even physical growth. Nutritional factors in the environment are also crucial – particularly early in a child’s development, from the prenatal stage right through to adolescence. Malnutrition, either through lack of food or an unbalanced diet, can have a lasting effect on cognitive ability. It has been found that children who do not receive an adequate amount of iron can suffer significant developmental delays. It is vital to ensure that children are protected from negative environmental influences and that they are given the opportunity to realize their full potential in a protected, healthy, and safe environment. This not only fosters positive physical development, but it will allow children to develop confidence and social skills, too. However, many children worldwide do not have this opportunity. For instance, it is estimated that over 200 million children under the age of five living in developing countries are not reaching their full potential, thanks to environments that are detrimental to their early development. This is likely to worsen as the world’s population continues to grow and as more and more children are born in urban areas. Rapid urbanization can increase children’s exposure to unwanted stress which, in turn, can have a detrimental impact on their development. This is particularly true in developing countries where there is limited access to green spaces and where the quality of the air and water may not be sufficient to maintain good health and development. However, it is not just children in developing countries that are affected – there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that children in the UK may also be at risk of harm due to environmental factors. For example, a paper published in the ‘Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health’ in 2012 found that children who had green space within 3 km of their home had more white and grey matter in certain areas of their brain. Such areas correspond to those which are involved in emotional development; and this added frontline defense against the stresses of life can protect people from the risk of mental illness and can improve the wider community’s general mental health. Early childhood development and its impact on children’s lives. However, it is also true that environmental factors can vary depending on the context. In some cases, environmental factors can be physical, such as the risk of injury and safety standards. This may be a more prominent concern in a developing country, where there may not be the same level of stringent safety regulations and provision of appropriate health and medical services, particularly in more remote areas. On the other hand, studies have also found that in developed countries, such as the UK, housing security and quality can be a significant environmental factor. Overcrowding or living in temporary accommodation can have a negative impact on children’s development; in particular, it has been shown to increase the risk of unintentional injuries such as burns and scalds. Such factors can result in adverse childhood experience and have a lasting effect on a child’s physical and psychological health.
2.3 Socioeconomic Factors
Socioeconomic factors – such as income level, parent education, and occupation – are closely tied to the well-being of families and children. Families from low-income backgrounds often have limited access to quality resources and healthcare services, which are essential for children’s early development. Parents with higher education levels are more likely to have the knowledge, skills, and financial resources to create a stimulating and enriching environment for their children. In contrast, parents with lower education levels may struggle to find stable and well-paying jobs, leading to chronic stress, depression, and a lack of quality time and attention that should be devoted to their children. In addition, low-income families tend to experience several common risk factors at the same time – for example, living in unsafe environments, exposure to lead and other toxins, and food insecurity – which can have compounding detrimental effects on children’s development and future life outcomes. Early childhood development programs and services, especially those addressing children and families living in poverty, play a key role in lessening the negative impact of socioeconomic factors. For example, the Early Head Start and Head Start programs in the United States provide children from low-income families and their families with high-quality early childhood programs, which offer comprehensive services across early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parental involvement. These programs can better prepare children for success in school and beyond, and help guide families in a positive direction for themselves and their children’s futures. Rich historical experiences and traditions of a culture can also be a powerful and meaningful resource for children’s development, whether in rural or urban settings. Therefore, efforts to promote early childhood development must ensure that all ethnic and cultural communities have the chance to preserve and cherish their cultural heritage, and can experience a sense of understanding, belonging, and wellbeing in the larger society. It is essential to recognize that children are citizens in their own right, and they are entitled to develop their full potential and feel that they are valued and respected. By doing so, we can embrace the rich diversity and the unique identity of each child, and give all children and families what is the foundation for a better and brighter future for the whole society.
3. Benefits of Investing in Early Childhood Development
For instance, the analysis and article has made clear of the advantages through the public by spending on early childhood development. As the studies have shown, the stronger investments in early childhood development not only benefit to the children, but also the society. For the children, the improvements of the knowledge, information, concept, vocabulary, listening skills, self confidence and other behavior developments help to the progression of the emotion. The cognitive development in the early age makes children to have more interest to go to schools. As a results, it supports to the further of progress in the educational attainment. These have been reflected by the studies. It definitely proofs the investment in early childhood development is worthwhile. And the society will take advantages on these impacts from the children. For instance, the analysis and article has made clear of the advantages through the public by spending on early childhood development. As the studies have shown, the stronger investments in early childhood development not only benefit to the children, but also the society. For the children, the improvements of the knowledge, information, concept, vocabulary, listening skills, self confidence and other behavior developments help to the progression of the emotion. The cognitive development in the early age makes children to have more interest to go to schools. As a results, it supports to the further of progress in the educational attainment. These have been reflected by the studies. It definitely proofs the investment in early childhood development is worthwhile. And the society will take advantages on these impacts from the children.
3.1 Improved Cognitive Development
In contrast to the brief temporary increase in cognitive performance that occurs as a direct result of growth, “continuous gains in performance reflect the process of increasing knowledge base that children develop over time.” In fact, a number of studies have documented the phenomenon of “summer setback,” in which children’s performance on standardized tests in the fall is correlated with the education levels of their parents. These studies suggest that the knowledge-based processes of cognitive development are particularly susceptible to the quality and quantity of children’s educational experiences. According to one report from a prominent research organization, bringing a child into a high-quality child care program at an earlier age cumulatively raises cognitive and socioemotional development. In other words, cognitive and socioemotional development is advanced because in better programs, children’s experiences are more supportive and stimulating. This serves to further highlight the dynamic interplay between biology and experience that is characteristic of brain development and explains how environmental input can have such a long-lasting impact on cognitive ability and intellectual growth. Specifically, it is basic cognitive processes – attention, memory, and so forth – that facilitate performance and enable people to understand more complex cognitive functions. Improved cognitive daily performance enables us to “think better,” and higher quality of knowledge is translated into “the ability to know more.” It is through this kind of knowledge and cognitive development, concluded by one study, that interventions such as “increasing the amount of time that instruction and process quality are high through the reduction of class size” can be effective.
3.2 Enhanced Social and Emotional Skills
At the same time, studies have shown that children who are enrolled in high-quality early childhood development programs, in which both cognitive and social and emotional development are prioritized, display more sophisticated social and emotional skills than those who do not participate. These skills are thought to underlie children’s abilities to regulate their own behavior, to interact positively with others, and so forth. As the children progressed through the programs, they tended to interact with each other in better and more positive ways, display greater sensitivity to other children, and experience fewer and fewer conflicts, enhancing their own positive social relationships and contributing to a much more positive classroom climate. These studies suggest that such programs encourage an intense and prolonged focus on the learning and mastery of strengthening cognitive and social and emotional skills, leading other activities, games, and so forth, which is by making.
3.3 Long-Term Educational Success
One study examined the long-term effects of a quality preschool program by tracking the progress of participants into adulthood. The study concluded that this particular program not only increased high school graduation rates and reduced the number of grade retentions, but also led to higher employment rates, higher earnings, and lower rates of criminal behavior. Other similar programs, such as the Child-Parent Center Education Program, have also been shown to produce long-term educational benefits. The study found that participants had lower rates of special education placement and were less likely to be held back a grade. They were also more likely to complete high school and have higher lifetime earnings. These programs not only enroll children in a preschool program, but also offer parental support and training. By providing valuable resources to both children and parents, these programs are able to set families on a path towards healthy development and growth. Studies like these are important in identifying the impact of early childhood education as they demonstrate that investing in the development of children before the age of five can have lasting benefits well into adulthood. These findings are especially significant given the fact that the United States currently spends over $500 billion on education, yet less than 5% goes towards funding pre-kindergarten education programs. As a result, only 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool education, despite the wealth of research supporting its benefits. Therefore, it is crucial for politicians, citizens, and educators to take note of these findings and help advocate for increased funding towards early childhood education programs, as they may have the potential to shape children’s lives for the better.
3.4 Positive Health Outcomes
Recent research has indicated that early childhood intervention can reduce the risk factors for disease and improve long-term health outcomes. Some studies have examined the improvement of heart and kidney function in individuals who have received longer periods of early childhood education. Some statistics even suggest that these individuals are at a lower risk of developing health disorders in adulthood and they often live longer. These findings have significant implications for understanding the social determinants of health. By targeting key risk factors during the first years of life, such as poor diet, family adversity, and lack of parental support, it may be possible to reduce the health gap between the more and less advantaged in society. Modern medical practice and the advent of genetic testing offer a more personalized approach to providing support for children’s health and well-being. Given the costs of most new genetic treatments, it is likely that there will be demands for healthcare professionals to incorporate genetic tests as part of early intervention medical care in the future. This could further increase the dilemma of whether parents should choose genetic treatments or early life support to improve their children’s health, or if this could strain healthcare resources even more. There is no doubt that these kinds of dilemmas make promoting young children’s health a complex and ethically demanding issue for modern society.
4. Policies and Interventions for Promoting Early Childhood Development
Over the last few decades, many countries have introduced varying policies and rolled out different interventions to enhance early childhood development, often with a focus on health, nutrition, and learning activities. The World Bank has devised a framework for effective early childhood development. According to the World Bank’s 2011 report on early childhood development, this kind of strategic policy and project management supported by a results-focused monitoring and evaluation framework is necessary to achieve a national agenda for early childhood development. The report suggests that the effective combination of health, nutrition, learning activities, and parenting initiative is the key to an improvement in early childhood development. Initiatives must support families and parents to enable them to provide safe and nurturing care for their children. Also, investment and effective delivery of interventions to support children through the early years life must be made. The World Bank had funded in excess of 700 early childhood development projects in about 140 countries over the past 10 years. The projects include training health workers in early screening of disabilities, promoting more responsive parenting, and physically and intellectually engaging children through play, providing support for institutionalizing child care standards and giving children with disabilities access to preschool activities. Another example comes from Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government launched the “Pilot Scheme on Providing Child Care Services in the Neighbourhood” in February 2007 to March 2010. About 3800 child care places would be increased in phases. Through this Scheme, elderly centres and special child care centres would be converted into child care centres in response to a growing demand for child care services. This provides flexible and expanded child care services in accordance with the actual needs of local communities and different categories of service users. Also, different kinds of service modes should be encouraged. In this scheme, working with various stakeholders should be found and strategies to encourage and monitor the continuous improvement to the course hero quality of child care services should be developed, such as the mutual help networks, promoting innovative and quality child care services.
4.1 Government Initiatives
Government initiatives to promote early childhood development have focused on providing comprehensive and high-quality early childhood services, expanding access to early childhood programs for children and families, and improving the quality of the early childhood workforce. One of the most well-known government initiatives is Head Start, which has been providing low-income children with a comprehensive, child development program since 1965. Head Start programs are also required to provide children with a range of individualized learning experiences, and parents are also strongly encouraged to be involved in these programs. In addition, Head Start programs must provide children with activities that support the development of cognitive skills, such as literacy, language, and early math experiences; that promote social and emotional development; and that provide children with both gross and fine motor activities. Another similar program is Early Head Start, which serves children from birth to age three—infants, toddlers, pregnant women, and their families. Early Head Start programs provide early, continuous, intensive, and comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families, and the programs also provide high-quality early childhood development programs, and comprehensive health, social, and other support services for not only the children themselves but also their families. Another government initiative is the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which is focused on providing low-income families with help paying for child care and afterschool care, and also with the goal of improving the quality and availability of such care. The program is designed to provide families with consumer education information, as well as to help families make an informed choice in the child care system. Families may also directly receive child care services through the program if they meet the eligibility requirements. Through the program, funds are provided to states to help them support their child care services for low-income families and to help low-income families acquire quality, affordable child care. Also, states are empowered to develop and implement their own child care systems and to improve child development. These initiatives are important as early childhood expertise shifts increasingly away from a focus on solely the workforce, to include a wider range of poverty reducing, child care, and early childhood development strategies – particularly on the state level. By aligning efforts and funding better under comprehensive initiatives and services, states will be better able to maximize the long-term benefits of early childhood education and to implement ongoing developmental health processes. However, strategies to improve child care services and quality and to expand early childhood programs should also address the continued need for research and data and the national coordination opportunities that impact the child care and educational experiences of young children. With the continued growth of technology in the lives of young children and its impact on early childhood education, applicants with this endorsement are prepared to effectively incorporate technology in the classroom and develop skills for using technology to maximize children’s learning potential. By studying the concept of technology in early childhood education, students can become effective on-line instructors.
4.2 Community-Based Programs
On top of this, it offers a suitable learning environment for the children and also ensures that all children receive the support and services they need to reach their full potential. The parents and all the family members are actively involved in the program. They are directly involved in the management of the program, students and parents learning, and also the curriculum. This is very important given that research has shown that strong family involvement has a major influence on children’s development. Also, parents have an opportunity to give feedback and also work hand in hand with the teachers and program leaders. By doing so, it creates an avenue for shared responsibility and knowledge of their children’s development and family services programs.
One of the most successful community-based child development programs is the program run by the community, for the community, and it has been in existence for over 50 years. It aims to provide a comprehensive child development program meant to foster the sound growth and development of children and their families. It is meant to target children from low-income families by providing them with quality early childhood programs to empower them for lifelong success. The program integrates a wide range of services, including early childhood education, health and nutrition for the children, and in-depth family development services that include health and wellness activities, community resources, and adult education. By doing so, the program does not only focus on the children but also the entire family for the posterity of the development outcomes.
As there are myriads of children in the community, the implementation of community-based programs is crucial. The various kinds of community-based organizations in place are meant to offer different forms of support to families. On top of providing childcare, they also offer family support services, health services, and even parental education. All these services are targeting to ensure that children have the best environment for their holistic growth.
4.3 Parental Involvement and Support
Another effective way to work on learning and development is to plan and engage in learning experiences, such as sorting laundry and learning what needs to be washed and why or reading a recipe and working together to mix and bake. These real-life experiences teach many important skills and concepts, including reading, math, and science, in a developmentally appropriate and fun way.
It is crucial to understand that parents are going to be more willing to be involved in the education of their child if they feel that their role is important, and they are making a positive impact. This is something that can be fostered through both teachers’ and parents’ efforts on letting the parent know what is happening in the classroom, what the children are focusing on, and how the parent can contribute at home. Tasks such as spending time together and providing comfort are important to both the child and the parents. Also, reading with one another has been found effective in providing a foundation for learning and is a lifelong skill that is beneficial for the children. For example, reading with and to children can do more than help language growth, it can increase the desire for knowledge. When a parent takes time out of their day to engage in a quality learning experience with children, it can not only further the parent-child relationship, but provide a child with valuable educational opportunities.
Parental involvement in early childhood education can extend the experiences that children have in the setting at home. Studies have shown that children whose parents are involved in their school and education perform better academically and are overall happier in school. There are many ways that parents can support their children’s learning at home and throughout the school year. Some of them require little time and are great rewards, while others can be effective learning experiences for a child.

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