Early Experiences Matter

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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Why Begin with Infants?

The early years of life are a period in which the foundation for future learning is being laid at the emotional, cognitive, experiential, and even cellular levels.

Brain Development
During infancy, brain development is occurring at a faster pace than at any other time in a human being’s development. The networks within the infant’s brain are transformed into an increasingly complex web of visual, motor, language, and socialemotional connections that are essential for later literacy learning.

Narrative Understanding
Narrative refers to the process of stringing together meaningful ideas as a story. Through exploration and discovery, observing daily events, and listening to simple stories, infants and toddlers begin to appreciate narrative and to themselves become “storytellers.” When a baby points to a dropped bottle and gestures grandly, she may be saying, “I was holding my bottle. Then it slipped. Now look, there’s a big mess!” When these narratives are acknowledged, infants are motivated to continue sharing their stories with adults. Narrative understanding is at the heart of learning to read and communicate.

Communication and Language Development
Print, spoken language, and gesturing are all strategies human beings use to communicate. In the first 3 years, infants and toddlers begin acquiring the first of thousands of words they will use throughout their lives. Simultaneously, children are learning the rules of grammar as well as absorbing the social conventions that exist around communication in their community. When adults respond sensitively and consistently to infants’ and toddlers’ attempts to communicate, children develop a sense of their own competence and self-efficacy.

Social-Emotional Development
The development of strong attachment relationships with family and primary caregivers may be the central task of infancy. It is in the context of warm, loving relationships that infants learn to trust, to feel safe exploring their worlds, and to develop a sense of competence and confidence in their own ability to master new skills. This growing sense of self-esteem and personal identity prepares them for later success as communication partners, readers, and writers.

Culture
As infants and toddlers, children are introduced to their cultural community, their culture’s approach to learning, ways of interacting, and important stories and traditions. Ensuring continuity between home and child care is one important way that teachers can support children’s early learning.

Appreciation of Print and Pleasure in Reading
Long before children are readers, they can develop an appreciation for the sounds of language (phonological awareness) through the songs, imitation, and sound plays that all cultures share with their infants. Very young children also begin to associate pleasure with reading when they share this experience with a loving adult.


This article was excerpted from the following publication:
Im, J., Osborn, C., Sánchez, S. and Thorp, E. (in press). . Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

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