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Early experiences set the developmental trajectory for lifelong learning and health. Babies are born wired to learn, but they don’t come fully wired. At birth, a baby’s brain contains about 100 billion neurons. Most are not yet connected in networks.
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At birth, a baby’s brain contains about 100 billion neurons. Most are not yet connected in networks.
Genes provide the blueprint for building the brain’s architecture. However, a child’s early experiences affect how the circuitry actually gets wired.
Early neural connections occur at warp speed. Learning is faster, more effortless and more fun than it will ever be again.
Brain architecture and developing skills are built “from the bottom up.” Simple circuits and skills provide the foundation for more advanced circuits and skills over time.
The early period of brain development is one of both opportunity and vulnerability.
Healthy early experiences provide a sturdy neural foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow.
Adverse early experiences result in weakened brain architecture and often lead to problems in learning, health and behavior.
The developing brain is like a super sponge, rapidly absorbing experiences into its architecture. By age three, 80 percent of neural construction is complete.
Early environmental factors and experiences shape the brain’s architecture. They foster or inhibit healthy social, emotional, cognitive and physical development.
Sense of safety
Caregiver stress levels
Stability of caregiver relationship
Socialization with others
• Nurturing, secure and predictable
relationships with caring and
supportive adult caregivers.
• Stimulation through positive
“serve and return” interactions
with those caregivers.
• Interactions that foster language
development, including exposure to
• Sense of safety and security,
absence of toxic stress.
Brief increases in heart rate,
mild elevations in stress hormone levels.
(Examples: Starting a new school, getting a vaccination)
Serious, temporary stress responses,
buffered by protective relationships.
(Examples: Frightening injury, natural disaster)
Serious, prolonged elevated stress
responses, in the absence of
(Examples: Exposure to violence,
physical or emotional abuse or neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness)
The physiological changes caused by TOXIC STRESSresult in increased rates of adult:
ISCHEMIC HEART DISEASE DEPRESSION
LIVER DISEASE OBESITY
HYPERTENSION ANXIETY DISORDER
ILLICIT DRUG USE DIABETES
CORONARY OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE
Disease Control and Prevention, The ACE Pyramid (2008).
K-12 Special Education $300 million/year
Child Mental Health Services $60 million/year
Corrections $160 million/year
Substance Abuse $900 million/year
Domestic Violence $1.0 billion/year
College Educated Parents
Working Class Parents
Cumulative Vocabulary (Words)
Parents in Poverty
Child’s Age (Months)
Source: Hart & Risley (1995)
Parents’ education and income can substantially impact their children’s well-being in other ways. Children who are born and raised in poverty are more likely to experience:
• Hunger and/or inadequate nutrition
• Exposure to environmental toxins
• Chronic medical conditions
• Learning disabilities and developmental delays
• Emotional and behavioral problems
• Academic difficulties, repeating grades and dropping out
• Unwed childbirth in adolescence
• Low incomes as adults
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Communities can protect at-risk infants and toddlers and support their families through:
High quality early care and education involves adult caregivers providing young children with individualized, responsive and stimulating learning experiences. These experiences foster intellectual, social and emotional development and lay the foundation for later school success.
High quality early care and education features stable and highly skilled staff, a high ratio of adults to children and a language rich, stimulating and safe environment.
Home visiting involves caring professionals visiting with expectant and new parents. Home visitors help parents access information and resources to nurture and support the healthy physical, cognitive, emotional and social development of their young children.
• require remedial education and/or drop out of school,
• become teen parents,
• experience emotional and mental health problems,
• engage in criminal behavior as teens and adults,
• abuse drugs, and
• become dependent on welfare.
Brain Growth Curve
Child’s age 5 10 15 20
Early Ed K-12Higher Ed
Two-thirds of children under five live in families in which all parents work. Maine lacks adequate high quality care and education to meet the needs of these families.
Slots with Quality
with all parents
Too many start behind, and most who do, stay behind.
About 45% of
all students are low-income
As many as 40% of all students are not developmentally prepared
43% of low-income students can't read
at basic level
19% of non low-income students can't read at basic level
80% low-income and 57% non low-income can't read at proficient level
30% of low-income students can't read
at basic level
12% of non low-income students can't read at basic level
76% low-income and 51% non low-income can't read at proficient level
52% of 11th graders can't read at proficient level
54% of 11th graders are not proficient in math
20% of students who start 9th grade don't graduate with class
35% of HS grads don't enroll in college
50% who enroll in community colleges and 20% who enroll in universities require remediation
74% who enroll in community colleges and 52% in universities don't graduate w/in 150% of normal time
“The Biggest Issue”
Mr. Brook’s NYT ‘s article summarizes Nobel prize-winning economist Dr. James Heckman’s research (”Schools, Skills and Synapses.”)
Maine employers find it difficult to fill jobs in many areas. These include health sciences, engineering and information technology.There simply aren't enough highly educated and skilled workers to meet the demand. Unless we take action now, the problem will only worsen. That’s because Maine has an old population, a low birthrate and a high percentage of children born to parents with low education and incomes.
“A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy: Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable Children.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2007). http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu; Shonkoff, J.P. and Phillips, D.A., eds., (2000), From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.).
Graph is from Hart, B., and Risley, T. R., Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 1995).
Salary figures are rounded. Average annual salary of $27,000 for teachers in accredited child care centers and $21,300 for teachers in non-accredited centers from Maine Child Care Workforce Climate Report & Market Rate Analysis, prepared for the Early Childhood Division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services by Digital Research, Inc., 2008; Average annual salary of $46,106 for public school teachers in Maine is from Rankings of the States 2010 and Estimates of School Statistics 2011, NEA Research, Dec. 2010; Average annual associate professor salary is composite of average annual salaries for associate professors at University of Maine at Orono, University of Southern Maine and other University of Maine System undergraduate universities. These figures are $75,400, $72,700 and $57,000, respectively, and are from the University of Maine System 2009 Compensation Report. Brain development curve approximates curve from D. Purves, Body and Brain, Harvard University Press, 1998. The curve shows the percentage of total brain growth by age.
David Brooks, “The Biggest Issue” summarizing Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman’s research in ”Schools, Skills and Synapses.” http/www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/opinion/29Brooks.htm.
“The High Cost of High School Dropouts,” November 2011 Issue Brief, Alliance for Excellent Education; Educational and Correctional Populations, Harlow, C.W. (2003), U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics; Maine Crime & Justice Data Book (2008), University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service, Justice Policy Program; 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau. http://factfinder.census.gov/.
From various sources including news reports in Bangor Daily News , Lewiston Sun Journal and Portland Press Herald; conversations with numerous Maine business leaders; Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts, http://www.statehealthfacts.org; 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau. http://factfinder.census.gov/; “Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey 2010”, National Center for Children in Poverty, Maine Early Childhood Profile.
These suggested actions are not exclusive. Neither are they new. For years, experts (to include noted economists, physicians and business leaders) have called for increased public and private investments in early childhood development. Yet, there continues to be a lack of public appreciation regarding the value of these investments.