By now, we know that critical brain development occurs during the early years of a child’s life, which is why investing in quality, early learning experiences for all children is so important for our future. Last week, Maine Lawmakers got to go a little more into the science behind early childhood brain development and the effects of toxic stress with neuroscientist Judy L. Cameron, PhD at the Maine Children’s Caucus.
“By the time they enter kindergarten, children who have experienced significant early life stresses are almost three cognitive years behind those not experiencing such stresses in cognitive skills.” – Dr. Judy L. Cameron from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.
During the first five years of life, the brain has the most plasticity or capacity for chance, which means this is a time of both great opportunity and vulnerability. If children have language-rich, nurturing experiences, their brain is more likely make build positive pathways. However, toxic stress can encourage the brain to build negative pathways, which disrupts healthy development and can have long-term consequences later in life. Fortunately, there are things we can do to promote healthy development and prevent these later consequences.
Dr. Judy Cameron presenting to the Maine Children’s Caucus.“The earlier the investment, the higher the return on investment.” – Dr. Cameron
If we want all Maine children to have a strong start to life, we need to invest in effective, early childhood programs like quality child care and Head Start that promote healthy cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. Quality, early learning care and education programs provide children the necessary stimulating and nurturing environment for children in their care, and this is especially important for children who do not have this type of environment at home. By providing quality, early learning experiences for more Maine children, we will save later on.
Later this month, lawmakers will get a chance to hear about the importance of early childhood social emotional learning and development during the early years. Dr. Walter Gilliam from Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy will present his new reach research on the effectiveness of early childhood mental health programs to support children with challenging behaviors and the people that who care for them.
The Maine Children’s Caucus is a bipartisan group of State Legislators founded by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D – Cape Elizabeth) and Rep. Matt Pouliot (R – Augusta) that seeks to build an informed Legislature on early childhood issues and development so lawmakers can make the best decisions for Maine’s future.