06 May 2009

Brain Development and Early Learning: Profound Societal Changes Should Inform Public Policy

Scientists have long been aware of the phenomenal growth of the human brain during the first years of life. Synaptic connections begin prior to birth and are created at an accelerated pace through age three. The condition of an infant's bond with his or her principal caregivers has a definite effect on the formation of the mind, impacting the nature and range of adult potentialities.

For our youngest children's minds to become highly developed and primed for learning throughout the lifetime, replicated experiences are vital. Whether at home or in an early education classroom, children do best if they are provided:

- Genuine, predictable and supportive interactions
- Established patterns and regularity
- Exposure to plentiful, interactive language
- Innovative ways to learn

What does this research on early brain development mean for public policy? To what scope should localities take public steps to advance early learning?

In our community, penetrating social and financial conditions are posing grim challenges to the efforts of families to ensure quality early childhood development.

These changing conditions include (www.kidscount.org):

- The substantial number of low-income working families with young children. From 2006 to 2007, the number of low-income working families with young children (< 6 years of age) residing in the City of Memphis increased by approximately twenty-four percent.

- The rise in unmarried families and in impoverished single-parent families. Almost 65% of children in our city live in single-parent families (Annie E. Casey, 2007). From 2006 to 2007, the number of impoverished single-parent families residing in the city increased by almost ten percent.

It appears that many of our parents are struggling in their attempts to guarantee that our youngest children are secure, flourishing and ready for the kindergarten classroom.

Investments that promote healthy brain development during early childhood provide dramatic economic and social returns. High quality early childhood initiatives can make a profound difference both for individuals and for society. Our job is to make sure that as many of our youngest children as possible have access to a strong start in life.

For more information on the well-being of young children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute and The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County Databook.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, www.kidscount.org.

Edie, D. & Schmid, D. (2007, Winter). Brain development and early learning. Wisconsin Councial on Children and Families.

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