Investing in Our Future

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014 1:00 am | Updated: 3:34 am, Mon Jun 23, 2014.

(Family Features) The compelling calls to action from business leaders, economists, educational experts and politicians across the country have brought increased attention to the importance of early childhood education. This groundswell around the first five years has left parents wondering what the excitement is all about.

Research shows that the development which takes place during the first five years of a child's life is critical to success in life, and parents, caregivers and early educators play a pivotal role in fostering this growth.

"My career has been focused on a combination of pediatrics, parenting, early brain development and early education and care, and I have seen first-hand the impact that high-quality early care can have on the future success of a child," said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician, early childhood expert and pediatric advisor to Primrose Schools, a leader in educational child care with more than 280 schools nationwide. "As I meet with parents, medical experts and business leaders around the country to address parenting needs, child development, and early education and care, I find that the more they understand about the growth and development in a child's brain during the first five years, the more they appreciate this invest-in-kids movement."

WHY THE FIRST FIVE YEARS ARE CRITICAL

Dr. Jana uses key connections to help explain how and why the first five years are critical for child development and future success:

Connecting the neurons

Babies are born with more than 100 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.

Connecting language and literacy abilities with future success

Reading and talking to young children are fundamentally important activities to their development. In a landmark study, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas, found that children roughly began talking at the same age. However, the level to which parents spoke to them - both frequency and quality of words spoken - had significant implications not only on their vocabularies by age 3, but also on their IQ, literacy skills and future academic success.

Connecting early skills to workforce development

Writer and speaker Paul Tough's "How Children Succeed" book offers an insightful overview of the evolving educational paradigm shift towards teaching skills necessary for the 21st century. Instead of the more purely cognitive focus of decades past, those dedicated to raising children for success are now focusing on character traits, such as grit, perseverance and leadership skills. These valuable skills can be fostered in early childhood, and are proving to be better predictors for later success than IQ scores or standardized tests.

ACTIVITIES TO STIMULATE YOUNG MINDS

Research shows that daily physical activity helps children perform better academically, and there are several ways to foster these skills with your own children. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education's "Active Start" book offers age-appropriate tips to keep children moving while powering up their brains. The key components of the Primrose Schools Thumbs Up! program are derived from these principles. Here are some activities you can try at home:

Infants

  • Play simple games like peek-a-boo that encourage small movements, crawling and cooing.

Toddlers

  • Allow walking and running in open areas to improve balance.

Preschoolers

  • Introduce activities that elevate heart rates, such as dancing, biking or jumping rope.

Understanding the critical development that takes place during the first five years and fostering these essential connections and skills will help shape our next generation of leaders. For more information, visit welcome.primroseschools.com.

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