The Importance of the Early Years

Shirley Oetheimer

The importance of the early years, from conception to age six, cannot be overstated. Young children grow and learn rapidly during the first six years of their lives. They are shaped by their surroundings, but as they grow, this capacity diminishes so by the time they are five, many of their character patterns are already established. If you wish to make a difference in a child’s life, the time to act is now, while we can make the greatest difference. Experiences in the early years shape a child’s future health, well-being, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family, community and in life in general.

Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child’s brain, and the first three are the most critical in shaping the child’s brain architecture. The human brain starts to develop in the first three to four weeks of pregnancy and by five months the brain of the unborn child has about 100 billion cells.

Scientists have learned that a child’s earliest experiences have the greatest impact on their development. In the first year of life, brain growth is staggering: 700 new synapses form every second. A brain synapse is the ‘wiring’ between two brain cells that grasps new learning. The more synapses, the more your brain will learn! Between the ages of three and six years, children experience extraordinary brain growth. By age seven, a child’s brain is fully developed. Early experience provides the base for the brains’ organizational development and functioning through life which has a direct impact on how children develop learning skills.

Take the time and make the moments matter in a child’s most crucial period of development. The greater the opportunities children have for play, for interactions with family, friends and the community, and for exposure to new experiences, the greater the benefits. Limit the screen time a child has as this cannot replace caring relationships and hands on discovery of their world.

Children need love, nurturing and guidance to develop a sense of trust and security that turns into confidence as they grow. They also require proper nutrition and sleep to actively participate and learn.

With healthy bodies and self esteem they will explore the many settings in their world which will positively impact all areas of development; physical, cognitive, creative, social, emotional, language, communication, relationships, attachments, attitudes, self regulation and behaviors. Be aware of the developmental milestones in a child’s growth and development. Information can be obtained by taking your child to screening events, from early learning programs and the medical field. Screening will show any gaps or delays in a child’s development and early intervention steps and support can be implemented when it will most benefit a child.

Many factors can influence children’s early years and their impact can last a lifetime, spending positive quality time with children, even just for short periods can have long-lasting effects. Talking singing, playing or just saying a friendly hello can stimulate and influence how children grow and develop. Research indicates that these few minutes can literally make a life time of difference. The greatest investment we can make is an investment in the life of a child. Our children represent our future work force, leaders, neighbours and care givers.

Mrs O works in the Tumbler Ridge Children’s Center Society Early Learning Family Resource Program. Made possible by the TR Success by Six Table and funding support by the Children’s First initiative.