Brains are built, not born. What happens in children’s early years sets the foundation for all the years that follow. Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. That’s because as Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff says, “brains are built not born.” Understanding this concept is ensuring that each child has the opportunity to realize his or her potential. The brain is one of the only organs not fully developed at birth. Most of the cells are there, but the connections – the wiring that forms the architecture is not. These connections develop in early childhood. Every experience a baby has, forms a neural connection in the brain. These connections—called synapses—form very rapidly in the early years at a rate of over one million new connections per second.
This graph shows when those connections peak for different brain functions.
This video explains how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains,
for better or worse, with lifelong consequences for learning, behavior and health.
The best part of the story is that we know what children need to build a strong foundation! Good health, strong families and quality learning experiences.
Health in the earliest years lays the groundwork for a future well-being. Children that participated in a high-quality early learning program that included health screenings and nutritional components had better adult health and less chronic disease 30 years later.
Strong families are vital. Parents are a child’s first and best teacher. Supporting parents has significant benefits to children and families. For example, voluntary home visiting programs provided by qualified professionals to parents, prenatally and/or with young children – reduce health care costs, improve school readiness and success, reduce need for remedial education and increase family self- sufficiency.
Quality early-learning experiences that begin at birth and continue through third grade can make all the difference! For example, Duke University researchers found that North Carolina third graders had higher reading and math scores and lower special education placements in counties that spent more money on Smart Start and More at Four – now NC PreK – when those children were younger. The early years are so defining that by the time children turn eight, their third grade outcomes can predict future academic achievement and career success.