We’ve all heard the saying “children are like sponges,” and when it comes to the developing brain, the saying is spot on. In childhood development, the early years are crucial and set the foundation for learning and developing cognitive and social skills. In fact, research has proven that the brain develops a vast majority of its neurons within the first three years of life. At birth, each neuron makes about 2,500 connections or synapses. As neurons continue to mature over time, more and more neural connections are made.
By age two or three, each neuron has made about 15,000 connections. As you go through your first decade of life, trillions of neurons are forming connections with other neurons to create a rather complex network of neural pathways. While the neural network continues to expand as you go through childhood, synapses that are not used often enough are ultimately eliminated, making various windows of time crucial periods of learning. A few essential functions of a child’s various neural networks consist of things like movements, vision, feelings, and language.
The exposure to early education and stimulating environments contributes to the development of language, problem-solving, analytical and logical skills and memory function. These skills help mold children to become better academic students and support the healthy growth of various character skills. According to Dr. Jessica Alvarado, of National University, “Early childhood is an important time in children’s lives because it is when they first learn how to interact with others, including peers, teachers, and parents, and also begin to develop interests that will stay with them throughout their lives.”
In many countries, quality early childhood education programs are few and far between. Many children don’t begin to learn these necessary skills until they enter primary school around five or six years old, resulting in a more difficult time learning and adapting to new environments and individuals and missing opportune windows for learning. According to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, children that attended and participated in a high-quality early childhood education program were less likely to be placed in special education or left back a grade, and more likely to successfully graduate from high school. Focusing on early childhood education therefore provides children with the necessary cognitive, emotional, and social skills needed to lead a successful life.