Why Early Childhood Matters

A child’s early years can have lifelong physical, social, and emotional impacts. While positive experiences and environments can set up a young child on a stronger life-long path, traumatic experiences or environments during those formative years can have long-lasting, detrimental impact. 

Early childhood experiences from birth to age 8 affect the development of the brain’s architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. A strong foundation helps children develop the skills they need to become well-functioning adults.  

In particular, the time between birth and age 3 is a period of rapid brain development when billions of connections between individual neurons are established. Mechanisms and interventions to support that development must be available beginning at birth. 

The experiences children have early in life play a crucial role in the development of the brain. Exposure to positive factors, especially stable and responsive relationships with parents and other adults, and safe and supportive environments promote positive development. 

When brain development in infants and young children is fully supported, they are more likely to reach milestones critical to future individual and community success. These include:

  • Third-grade reading proficiency
  • High school graduation and postsecondary education
  • Gainful employment
  • Lifetime physical and mental health and well-being
  • Avoidance of substance use disorder and crime

On Feb. 27, North Carolina welcomed Dr. Jack Shonkoff as the keynote speaker for the NC Early Childhood Summit. Shonkoff is a leading scholar on early child health and development and the director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.