The future prosperity of New Hampshire depends on our ability to steward the next generation who will live, work, and lead in our state. We know that success in high school, college, and career is directly related to a successful early childhood. When we as a state ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. Healthy child development is a critical foundation for community and economic development because capable children are the bedrock of a prosperous and sustainable Granite State.
The early years of life matter because early experiences affect the architecture of the maturing brain. Children begin learning as soon as they are born, and their brains are built from the bottom up. The benefits of positive early experiences build, one on top of another, as “skill begets skill.” Early experiences literally shape how the brain gets built: a strong foundation in the early years increases the probability of positive outcomes. A weak foundation increases the odds of later difficulties. Remedial education, clinical treatment and other professional interventions are more costly and produce less desirable outcomes than the provision of nurturing, protective relationships and appropriate learning experiences earlier in life. It is more efficient, both biologically and economically, to get things right the first time than to try to fix them later.
We cannot focus on developing just one part of the child without paying equal attention to the other capacities. Cognitive, emotional and social capacities are tightly connected throughout the life course. Being an interactive organ, the brain utilizes some functions to enrich others. Language acquisition, for example, relies on hearing, the ability to differentiate sounds, and the ability to pay attention and engage in social interaction. Scientists now know that the interactive influences of genes and experience shape the developing brain. Children’s hearts and minds are molded by the relationships and environments they experience. The active ingredient in healthy brain development is the “serve and return” relationships young children have with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community. Like the process of serve and return in games such as tennis and volleyball, young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling and facial expressions. When we respond to these bids for communication and closeness, we are building a strong foundation for healthy brain development.
When we give our youngest citizens a stimulating environment with plenty of opportunities to explore and discover and interact positively with others, we lay that strong foundation for their future learning. Proven and effective early learning programs that promote the optimal development of every child, such as quality child care, Head Start and preschool, provide this strong foundation and give children the tools they need to succeed in school and in life. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has identified several effectiveness factors in early learning programs that support healthy child development:
The healthy development of children provides a strong foundation for healthy and competent adulthood, responsible citizenship, economic productivity, strong communities, and a sustainable society. We all benefit when we give children the right start.
Endorsed by the NH State Board of Education – June 8, 2011