One thousand days. That is all the time required to build the incredibly powerful yet highly impressionable web of neurons known as the human brain. During this short span of early life, a child learns to think, communicate, and develop socially as the brain becomes permanently “hardwired.” Never again will a child develop at such a rate and never again will adults have such a profound influence on a child’s life. Established during these “incredible years” is a set of intellectual and social skills that will form the foundation of learning throughout life.
A huge amount of early childhood development research during the past two decades has led to an enhanced understanding of how the brain develops. Aided by extraordinary advances in such tools as brain imaging technologies, research shows that at no time in life does a brain “learn more” or is more active than in a child’s early years. Research notes that the brain develops in a positive or a negative manner, or in some combination of the two, both in response to a child’s genetics and to his/her external environment. Of course, the child’s environment is enormously dependent upon the actions of adults.
The most important part of the child’s environment is the warm and nurturing relationship with his parents and caregivers. Nothing can outweigh the importance of the love and security a child feels from these relationships, and nothing can stimulate brain development more – not fancy toys or piped in music – than the warmth of his parents arms and sound of their voices.
Research also shows that quality early childhood interventions are critical to children’s lifelong success. These studies’ findings support the concept that high-quality early education programs, which also entail a parent support component, greatly enhance child development and produce enduring societal benefits. In other words, such programs help children achieve their full potential.
The research on early brain architecture and development is both consistent and compelling: The brain is rapidly developing during the early years of life; such development is profoundly influenced by the actions of adults caring and interacting with the child; and the stage for success or struggles in life is well-established during these critical years. These “incredible years” truly represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which we cannot afford to ignore.