The Importance of the First Five Years

Excited children holding thumbs up

High quality early childhood education provides children with the foundation they need to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. Research shows the most significant brain development milestones occur from birth to age 5. Babies are born with more than one hundred billion nerve cells in their brains. These neurons must connect and communicate with each other in order to form the circuits needed to think, learn and succeed – something neurons do at the remarkable rate of 700 connections per second in the first five years of life.

According to The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “The strength and efficiency of these connections is greatly affected by social interactions that involve an active back-and-forth – or ‘serve and return’ – exchange of information.” Parents and educators play a critical role in creating these new and repeated experiences that lay the foundation for a wide range of developmental outcomes later in life.

“Serve and return” can be implemented with children of all ages to promote a variety of positive learning outcomes, such as literacy and language skills, social and emotional confidence, and executive functioning skills such as team building and leadership skills. Parents should seek out an early childhood program that has an integrated curriculum that carefully balances social, emotional, physical and academic learning based on age and development levels. For example, during story time, teachers should engage students in different back-and-forth interactions by age, including:

• Ages 6 weeks to 1 year old: cooing and making facial expressions
• Ages 1-3: asking questions and using different character voices
• Ages 4-5: discussing feelings by frequently and deliberately pairing words with objects and actions to create meaning.

Additionally, by implementing “serve and return” and discussing problems and feelings during playtime, children begin to develop important life skills such as playing well with others, thinking outside the box, and learning to cope with failures.

Early childhood education provides the foundation for a child’s future in life beyond school and academics. High quality programs have the end goal to develop a child into a well-rounded individual with a love of learning and life. To achieve this, it is important during this early childhood experience to incorporate critical thinking skills as well as character development and life skills, all of which are critical to cultivating children who show empathy and respect for others.

The rapid development that takes place during the first five years of a child’s life is critical to success in life, and early educators play a pivotal role in fostering this growth.


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Written by John Staab

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