Babies and toddlers make one million neural connections per second in the first 3 years of their lives. They are laying down the foundations of their brain circuitry for learning, thinking and taking in their world that they will have for their entire lives. Emory University and the state of Georgia’s “Talk With Me Baby” informational sheet tells us that 85% of brain growth occurs in the first 3 years of life. By age 5, it’s 90% formed, according to First Things First, a public funding source in Phoenix, Arizona dedicated to early childhood development so that Arizona’s children can succeed in school and life. Brain connections made in the early years of life will be the foundation on which all future brain connections will be built.
Currently, there are countless public-funded groups, non-profit organizations, activists and individuals who aim for government and public funding to be the solution for babies and toddlers. They are working hard to address such issues as paid family leave, high-quality early care and early education to make sure all children get the best start as possible in life. These groups and people want solutions, to be sure.
However despite all of their efforts, the cogs of government to approve government programs at the local, state and federal levels turn very, very slowly. Even when groups achieve some or most of their intended noble goals, whether that be writing early childhood policy, funding research that proves the crucial learning that happens from birth to age 3, contacting lawmakers, and/or building public awareness of the importance of birth to 3 development, the next step is where they typically stumble and, too often, fail: to secure funding for government programs for all babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children. As Cynthia Nixon, actress and public school advocate, tweeted recently regarding the state of New York’s universal pre-K achievements, “it would take 57 years to fund full-day universal pre-K” at the current funding levels that Governor Cuomo has dedicated to universal Pre-K in the New York state budget.
Obviously, the babies and toddlers of today don’t have 57 years to get the right brain stimulation and to have high-quality interactions with caretakers and parents. They have 3-5 years to build 85-90% of their brains in the care of the grown-ups in their lives. If these children don’t get what they need in the early years, the odds have it that they will go on to a lifetime filled with struggles and challenges, such as poor school performance, special education needs, young parenthood, juvenile delinquency, and low-paying jobs. Then, out of their own experience of struggle and challenge, these children will go on to have their own children who will also struggle and be challenged in school and in life. And, from there, the cycle repeats itself generation after generation.
The babies and toddlers of today don’t have the luxury of waiting one more day for government programs, policymakers, lawmakers, and funding to come through for them. Every day that little ones go without real-time, free or low-cost solutions to meet their needs for high-quality care, conversation and interactions with parents and caregivers, that is one less day that babies and toddlers’ can spend getting prepared to succeed in school and life.