Investing in the Young

We know from decades of research on child development and neuroscience that every child needs a wide variety of early learning experiences in the earliest years of life, including lots of interaction and communication with nurturing adults. Without these experiences, the child's brain may literally fail to create the neural connections necessary for the later development of strong cognitive, language and social-emotional skills. Unfortunately, too many young American children do not have the rich experiences they need. For example, research has shown that children in very low-income families have only about one-third as many words spoken to them in an average day as does a child in a high-income family. As a consequence, low-income children tend to lag far behind their peers in vocabulary development, which is one of the best predictors of later reading ability.

Fortunately, we have effective strategies for closing the opportunity gap. For families to be successful, parents and young children need support and access to high-quality learning experiences from the prenatal period through their transition into school. Providing these opportunities is a good investment. Nobel-Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman estimates a 10 percent rate of return on investments in high-quality, intensive early childhood interventions. In fact, Professor Heckman's research shows that the most economically efficient time to invest in these skills and abilities is in the very early years when developmental education is most effective.

Great gains are to be had by investing in early childhood development - from birth to age five:

  • Savings from reduced special education and grade retention
  • Savings from reductions in crime and delinquency
  • Increased future earnings for participants
  • Fewer tax dollars going to fight crime, drug use and teen pregnancy and less reliance on public assistance programs

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© 2012 Gustafson Family Charitable Foundation