Time Makes the Difference

When it comes to investments, time can make the biggest difference on the degrees of risk and return. To maximize  returns, taxpayers need to take full advantage of time. A well-timed investment  in early childhood arrives at the same time as brain development is taking place. Investments in early childhood maximize the potential returns of skill development which mature overtime.

Neuroscience reveals the human brain develops the foundation for skills and character traits in the first three years. The brain’s receptiveness to new information and flexibility to adjust connections peaks before a child enters kindergarten. This window of opportunity to develop a solid foundation is short lived and will affect later achievements and successes. 

 

Investment Backed by Brain Development

It is easier and less costly to form strong brain circuits during the early years than it is to intervene or “fix” them later. Graph Source: Pat Levitt (2009).

It is easier and less costly to form strong brain circuits during the early years than it is to intervene or “fix” them later. Graph Source: Pat Levitt (2009).

In the first years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. Simple neural connections are built first. These connections establish lightning-fast communication pathways among neurons that specialize in different types of brain functions. The early years establish the most neural connections.

The neural connections formed in the first years of a child’s life provide either a strong or weak foundation for the connections that form later. The interactions between a child and his or her parent or other primary caregiver greatly influence these connections which form the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depend. The more a connection is used, the stronger it becomes.

After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. As unused or rarely used connections are pruned, brain connections lose plasticity or harden. This makes it increasingly difficult to create new neural circuits or rewire existing ones as the brain matures.  


 

Detrimental to Wait

Source: Hart, B. & Risley T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Source: Hart, B. & Risley T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Vocabulary is a known predictor of educational success. Two child development researchers, Hart and Risley, studied children's vocabulary and found differences in a child's vocabulary as early as 18 months of age. Left unaddressed, that gap widens rapidly as they approach school age. Hart and Risley's research linked vocabulary development with language-rich environments. A predictor of language-rich environments was familial education and income.

A 2015 study analyzed national data for 8,650 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort found children with larger oral vocabularies at age two had greater reading and math achievement; better behavioral self-regulation; fewer instances of acting out and fewer anxiety-related problem behaviors (excessive worrying, extreme shyness, etc.).


The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through a process that begins early in life and continues into adulthood. Simpler circuits come first and more complex brain circuits build on them later. Genes provide the basic blueprint, but experiences influence how or whether genes are expressed.