Education: Early Childhood

Submitted by The Urban Child Institute

“Society is changing and the needs of young children are not being addressed. Children are born wired for feelings and ready to learn. Their early environments matter, and nurturing relationships are essential…what happens during the first months and years of life absolutely does matter, not because this period of development provides an indelible blueprint for adult well-being but because it sets either a sturdy or a fragile base for what follows.” (Phillips & Shonkoff, 2000, p. 9-10)

Children’s experiences in their earliest years (0-5 years old) affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth. Language blossoms, basic motor skills form, and thinking and emotions become more complex. Children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others, and the stage is set for social and emotional development.

Shelby County Data

There are many young children in Shelby County. The approximately 240,000 children under the age of 18 in the county represent approximately one-quarter of the total population, with a fairly even distribution across the age range (1). Children under six account for about 9% of the total population (2).

In 2013, 13,760 babies were born in Shelby County. Although most babies are born healthy, many are born too early or too small. Infants born preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation) and at low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds) are at greater risk for physical and developmental health problems, from poor lung functioning and language delays to infant death.

Of those babies born in 2013, 13% were born preterm (3). This percentage has remained relatively stable over time and consistently hovers above the national average of 12%. Additionally, 12% in Shelby County were born at low birth weight (4). This is also above the national average of 8%.

The most current data, from 2014, indicate that about 38% of children under the age of six in Shelby County lived below the Federal Poverty Level of $23,850 for a family of four (5). In contrast that same year, approximately 24% of children under the age of six lived in poverty nationally. Poverty can affect a child’s development in different ways. Poverty is associated with factors such as unsafe environments, reduced access to healthy foods, and low-quality childcare (6). Poverty can influence development of children by increasing stress and strain on families. This additional burden on caregivers makes it challenging to provide the nurturing parenting that children need to thrive.

Importance of Home and Child Care Environment

A child’s home environment influences his or her development. The home should be a safe place for play and nurturing, which is key for all areas of healthy child development. The home is also where important interactions happen with parents, caregivers, friends, siblings, and others in the community. Parental warmth – touching, holding. comforting, rocking, singing, and talking calmly – can help children manage their emotional experience. This can contribute to the reduction of behavior problems down the road (7). A child’s relationship with a consistent, caring adult in the early years is associated with healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions, increased ability to cope with stress, and better school performance later in life (8).

A significant proportion of children spend at least some time in nonparental (out-of-home) care during their first five years of life. Similar to parent-child interactions, interactions that children have with nonparental caregivers can play an important role in promoting child development. This may be driven by the education level and training of the provider, as well as the overall quality of the nonparental care setting. The types of child care, including center-based, family child-care homes, relative care, or care in the home by a nonrelative – differ in their level of formality, the way they are set up, and the qualifications of the caregivers. This suggests that there may be unique needs for each setting to ensure that all children in Shelby County are receiving care in a way that maximizes all areas of their development.

Children who are in high-quality, formal childcare have:

1. increased social skills at the end of the preschool year (9)

2.  improved academic school readiness (10)

3. less problem behavior at school entry and at the beginning of high school (9,11),

and

4. better academic outcomes, which persist from school entry to the end of high school (11).

The developing brains of infants and toddlers are wired to expect responsive, warm, and sensitive interactions with parents and caregivers. But if that does not happen, children can suffer – and it has lifelong consequences.

Many children in Shelby County are at risk of not developing to their full potential. Many face multiple risks, including poverty and having younger mothers with less life experience and education. Raising a child in such an environment is exceedingly difficult for a parent and can result in higher stress, which in turn can affect the warmth and responsiveness of the parent toward the child. In addition, many young children spend a significant amount of time in a child-care setting. Though many programs offer high-quality care, there are children spending time in programs that could be doing more to support healthy child development. As a community, we have a unique opportunity to consider these risks and the implications that they have for the children of Shelby County. Working together, we can help to strengthen these skills within our youngest children and set them up for lifelong success.

Want to know more? Please visit the Urban Child Institute at www.tuci.org or on facebook.com/UrbanChildInstitute or Twitter @UrbanChildInst. The information in this document is from the Urban Child Institute’s 2015 publication, Off to A Good Start: Social and Emotional Development of Memphis Children.

Click the following to get more information on Education: K-12 and Education: Post-Secondary.

Additional Resources

PeopleFirst Partnership/Seeding Success 2015 Shelby County Annual Report

PeopleFirst Partnership/Seeding Success 2016 Legislative Priorities

PeopleFirst Partnership

Seeding Success

The University of Tennessee and Urban Child Institute CANDLE Study

The Early Success Coalition

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Center Task Force of Shelby County

Kid Central Tennessee

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Bridging the Word Gap National Research Network

National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families

 

References

  1. Phillips, D.A. & Shonkoff, J.P. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Academies Press.

  2. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates 2014, Table B09001

  3. Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Policy, Planning, and Assessment, Office of Health Statistics. Number of live births with number and percentage preterm, by race of mother and county of residence of mother, Tennessee, 2013

  4. Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Policy, Planning, and Assessment, Office of Health Statistics. Number of live births with number and percent low birthweight, by race of mother and county of residence of mother, Tennessee, 2013

  5. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates 2014, Table B17024

  6. Sklar, C. (2010). Charting a new course for children in poverty: The reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Washington D.C.: Zero to Three.

  7. Phillips, D.A. & Shonkoff, J.P. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Academies Press.

  8. Sabol, T.J. & Pianta, R.C. (2012). Patterns of school readiness forecast achievement and socioemotional development at the end of elementary school. Child Development, 83(1), 282-299.

  9. Mashburn, A. J., Pianta, R. C., Hamre, B. K., Downer, J. T., Barbarin, O. A., Bryant, D., et al. (2008). Measures of classroom quality in prekindergarten and children's development of academic, language, and social skills. Child Development, 79(3), 732-749.

  10. Burchinal, M., Vandergift, N., Pianta, R., & Mashburn, A. (2010). Threshold analysis of association between childcare quality and child outcomes for low-income children in pre-kindergarten programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25(2), 166-176.

  11. Vandell, D. L., Belsky, J., Burchinal, M., Steinberg, L., Vandergrift, N., & Steinberg, L. (2010). Do effects of early childcare extend to age 15 years? Results from the NICHD study of early childcare and youth development. Child Development, 81(3), 737-756.

  12. The Urban Child Institute and the RAND Corporation. (2015). Off to A Good Start: Social and Emotional Development of Memphis Children.