Early Childhood and Child Development

A child’s first 6 years is considered to be a vital stage in human development. During this period, called “early childhood,” the child develops at a fast pace. Intelligence, perception, personality, social behavior, and mental abilities are shaped to a significant level. Most of the child’s brain development is also completed during this period, forming the basis of what will be in effect throughout the child’s life. Failure in the child’s basic development during early childhood may have permanent negative effects on their cognitive, emotional, and social development. The level of development varies depending on how the child is raised and educated during the first 6 years.

In the first 6 years of life, a child’s brain will develop faster than it ever does throughout the life span. Especially in the first years, approximately 700 new neural connections are generated in the brain per second. These links are the cornerstones of a child’s cognitive, language, social, and emotional development. The connections in the brain, which are not stimulated or used, weaken and disappear over time.

The foundation of language skills, which is important for success in academic and social life, is also developed during this period. Before children start talking, parts of the brain related to language development begin to take form. For young children, the process of breaking up language into meaningful pieces occurs when adults talk to them. For this reason, the prevalence of families and close encounters in early childhood is highly important.

In addition, quality educational support for children during this period is important and fosters their development. The benefits of a qualified Early Childhood Education include longer exposure to schooling which allows children to become more successful in academic terms, as well as healthy, active, and productive.

The Importance of Early Childhood Development (ECD) on the Sustainable Development Goals

The aim of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2015 is to advance and improve the benefits of the Millennium Development Goals, thereby reducing poverty, encouraging participatory social and economic development, and ensuring that everyone benefits from equal and sustainable wealth.

ECD programs and interventions go beyond being the most cost-effective method of achieving outcomes in health, nutrition, and education, in that they are necessary for the empowerment of women, the reduction of violence, the promotion of environmental sensitivity, and breaking the inherited cycle of poverty and inequality.

The findings of different branches of science demonstrate clearly and convincingly that investment in young children forms the basis of sustainable human development. ECD is a set of strategies based on scientific evidence. Factors within this strategy include parent support; early detection and intervention of developmental delays and obstacles; child care; support and learning; health care for the target groups; nutrition; social protective services; good quality preschool education; and transition to good quality primary schools.

The realization of these strategies requires that multiple partnerships be formed in cooperation with different sectors, and that different governmental agencies work together. Our global responsibility to children is mandated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is one of the key components of a rights-based approach to human development that promotes equitable and sustainable development. Creating an environment where young children and their families can thrive will contribute to achieving most important goals in health, education, income, social justice, women’s rights, and gender equality.