A common parenting slogan has been “the years before five, last the rest of their lives” and it’s a very apt saying that refers to the importance of early childhood education. A good education can be the key to a successful career and positive relationships later in life, and we’re starting to see that an early foundation is the place to start.
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While there is a current movement in some parenting circles to delay academics until later, in order to let kid’s enjoy their childhood, there is quite a bit of evidence that starting them off with solid learning early is what leads to a more successful life for the years ahead. Several studies have been performed over decades, to compare the outcomes for children who are part of a pre-school program compared to those who are not.
A famous study, known as the Abecedarian Project is a perfect example. Their test groups showed that the kids with pre-k enrichment went on to better education later, and great career success as well. There were more high school graduates in the early education group, and that group also ended up in higher-earning jobs. Other similar studies all point to the same results: an educated start results in a better quality of life (on average).
The reasoning is very simple. Children’s’ brains are still developing in those first few years, building connections and growing neurons. The more activity the brain undergoes, the more connections are made. These are then permanent for the rest of their lives, giving them a mental advantage. Education later on is less effective because that mad rush of growth has passed. It’s a window of opportunity that should be embraced.
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For most people, this is going to mean a form of organized preschool or a Head Start program that gets kids into educational environments before the typical kindergarten years. You should do a little research into their programs before signing up your children however. A standard “daycare” that really only offers a watchful eye over your kids with a few activities thrown in may not have the educational value you’re looking for.
Of course, early education doesn’t have to mean tedious worksheets and rigorous exams either. In fact, it shouldn’t. There is a great deal of educational value in creative play that is a big part of early learning. The key is to make activities fun and yet meaningful at the same time. Early education (whether it’s at home or in a pre-school environment) should include many forms of creative play, exposure to books and reading, opportunities to explore new surroundings and even trying musical instruments.
Not only does early childhood education build neural connections that last a lifetime, it helps develop a curious nature and a love of learning that will help well into adulthood.