From birth to age 5, children’s brains grow and develop at a rate unmatched later in life. Research shows this critical window of brain development lays the foundation for all future learning and development.
Positive, attentive and nurturing relationships with their parents and nonparental caregivers are essential to establishing a strong developmental foundation and setting children up for success in school and beyond.
Children under the age of 5 spend more than 30 hours a week with nonparental caregivers, in center- and home-based child care, preschool classrooms, and informal arrangements with family, friends or neighbors. Researchers have found that young children enrolled in high-quality early learning opportunities can reap short- and long-term benefits including: improved literacy and numeracy skills; healthy social and emotional development; decreased enrollment in special education; and higher grade retention and graduation rates.
Attributes of high-quality early learning settings typically include licensure and accreditation, low staff-child ratios and strong parent engagement, among others. Researchers underscore that the professionals who provide care and educate young children are the linchpin to quality and better outcomes.
Early care and education professionals are sometimes referred to as “the workforce behind the workforce,” because reliable child care enables parents to work, attend school or other job training opportunities. Yet, in many communities and states, the demand for child care outweighs supply. Many factors contribute to this shortage, including a lack of qualified and supported early care and education professionals. Along with parents, employers and local policymakers, state legislators across the country are working to address these challenges.