THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EARLY YEARS
Early childhood is a very critical period when rapid transformations occur in children’s physical, mental, cognitive, and socio emotional facilities. Recent advances in neurobiology and other brain research fields (Mustard 2002, 2005 quoted in the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007) have highlighted the crucial role of the early years in the formation of the human brain. According to this body of research, the period 0-3 is marked by heightened activity in the growth of brain cell connectors which reaches its peak at the age 3 and then moves into a plateau followed by a period of elimination when density decreases to adult levels.
Early childhood is also a very sensitive period and the quality of a child’s experiences in the early years has a major impact on his/her future life chances. Research in brain development in the first weeks and months of life shows that negative experiences in the early years, have long-lasting effects on brain development and major social and economic impacts on society. (Bailey 2002; Horton 2001, quoted in the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007).
Negative experiences are associated with behaviour and learning problems, substance abuse, involvement in crime and poor physical health. On the other hand, adequate nutrition and positive nurturing coupled by stimulating experiences in the early weeks and months considerably enhances a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual well being for the rest of his or her life.
Participation in high quality ECCE programmes results in better outcomes for the child and society. Evidence from impact studies and longitudinal studies carried out both in developed and developing countries (Arnold, 2004; Mustard, 2005; Arnold et al , 2000; Sylva et al 2004) show the positive impact of ECCE on children outcomes as well as broader benefits for the family and society….