Why Birth to Age 3

Why focus attention on the first three years of life?
…because early childhood experiences – good and bad – have lifelong effects.

Researchers, including Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, have found that disadvantaged children who receive quality early childhood education:

  • Achieve greater literacy
  • Receive higher grades
  • Are more likely to graduate from high school
  • Are less likely to commit a crime
  • Have fewer teen pregnancies


For children:

  • By age 3, the brain has developed to 80% of its adult volume. Early education – or the lack of it – correlates with significantly higher or lower IQ scores for children tested at age 5, a difference which is still valid at age 21.
  • Love and learning are intimately interwoven in the first three years of life. Early life experiences have a long-term impact on a child’s emotional state, ability to socialize, and capacity to learn. Qualities including resilience, persistence, and the ability to work well with others – all key to success throughout life – are shaped by the earliest interactions.
  • The effect of a parent’s care – nurturing and stimulating or abusive and neglectful – lasts a lifetime. Children are most sensitive to both positive and negative influences between birth and age 3.

For society:

  • The benefits of a good beginning extend through life, so they affect society as a whole. According to Heckman, a society’s investment in early childhood more than pays for itself. He says, “Every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education produces a 7 to 10 percent per annum return on investment.”
  • Early experiences can translate into school readiness, academic success, and lifetime well-being. “Success builds upon success, ” Heckman says.”When more children in a community are ready to learn, community-wide levels of human and social capital rise.”