Because between 85 and 95 percent of a child’s brain development takes place before age 5, children benefit from early childhood education and the stimulation it provides, according to research from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Working mothers also benefit because they need quality early childhood programs for their children while they are at work. The percentage of children under 6 with working mothers was 7 percent in 1940 and 51 percent in 1990, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. By 2012, 71 percent of children had mothers who work, which makes early childhood education more important than ever.
The Economic Opportunity Institute points out a child’s early experiences influence lifelong health and well-being. Reasons for this include the fact that children learn coping and decision-making skills early in life, and children who do well in school are less likely to pick-up risky health behaviors. Early childhood programs also require immunizations, often conduct vision, hearing, and developmental screening, and serve nutritious meals, with researchers concluding that early childhood education programs significantly affect health in a way that continues into adulthood, report Allison Friedman-Krauss and W. Steven Barnett.
Quality preschool programs can enable children to achieve higher test scores, avoid grade retention, attain more higher education, and in some situations stay clear of delinquent and criminal activities, according to Friedman-Krauss and Barnett. Children who had received early childhood intervention were more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate, and the effect on children’s school success can continue up to 30 years. states Professor Elizabeth Pungello of the University of North Carolina.
Benefits to Society
Programs that are more effective were those where caregivers were better trained and the ratio in center-based programs was smaller, according to research from the Rand Corporation. In a separate study, the renowned HighScope Perry Preschool Study followed 3- and 4-year olds from 1962 through 1967 to age 40, and in 2005, reported lifetime effects. Researchers found that those in the preschool program were more likely to have graduated from high school, be employed and had committed fewer crimes. They estimate a $12.00-return-on-dollars-invested resulting from lower welfare, crime and education costs and increased taxes on earnings.
It is clear that early childhood education makes a difference, but not all families have access to quality programs, with only 51 percent of children in poverty but 72 percent of children in the top income quintile able to attend early childhood education programs. Middle class children have the least access to “highly effective” preschool programs and the National Teacher’s Association points out that only 14 states require school districts to offer kindergarten .While disadvantaged children see longer term benefits, children from all socioeconomic groups experience some benefit from preschool.