By Alison May
Research indicates that the first years of a child’s life are profoundly significant in terms of brain development and growth, with more than 1 million new neural connections formed every second during that time. That’s a lot of brain activity!
This critical period was the focus of a daylong NCSL forum in Wichita, Kan., in October. Approximately 60 Kansas legislators, legislative staff, agency secretaries and staff, and other Kansas early childhood stakeholders joined NCSL staff and national experts to deepen their knowledge of policies to support early learning.
NCSL’s early care and education staff have seen early childhood policies bring members of differing political parties together. The experience on Oct. 8 confirmed that early childhood can be a unifying issue.
The forum was an introduction for some and a refresher course for others on some of the key elements of early childhood development and education.
Highlights included presentations on brain architecture, early brain development, and the return on investments in early childhood programs. Participants were struck by the skills our youngest generation will need, as explained by Sarah Lytle from the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. Early on, kids need to learn how to regulate their emotions, explore their environment, understand routines and solve problems, just to name a few. Participants also received a high-level overview of the federal funding streams that support young children and families.
The day concluded with a deep dive into what Kansas has done, is doing and plans to do to move early childhood forward and improve outcomes for children and families in the state. Earlier this year, the Kansas Department of Education received $4.5 million through the federal Preschool Development Birth Through Five (PDG B-5) Grant to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth-through-age 5 needs assessment.
Experts from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund and the state’s Department of Education shared their experience of traveling throughout the state and hearing priorities from thousands of Kansans. Harnessed with this useful data, Kansas will now submit a request for a federal implementation grant.
A new NCSL webpage highlights sessions from the day, including handouts and PowerPoint presentations. NCSL staff are already planning our next in-state symposium on early childhood. If you are interested in hosting such a day with your legislative colleagues, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison May is a policy associate with NCSL’s Children and Families Program. She covers early care and education issues.