Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has a smart interactive feature on its website that boils down years of research into five compelling facts that can be used by advocates, parents, healthcare providers, and anyone trying to improve outcomes for one child or for a community of children.

The interactive feature, called “Five Numbers to Remember About Early Child Development,” presents easily accessed images and sources for these facts:

700 per secondIn the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. “These are the connections that build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depend,” as the five numbers presentation explains.

18 months. At age 18 months disparities in vocabulary begin to appear. These disparities are based on whether children are “born into a family with high education and income or low education and income. By age three, children with college-educated parents or primary caregivers had vocabularies two to three times larger than those whose parents had not completed high school. By the time these children reach school, they are already behind their peers unless they are engaged in a language-rich environment early in life.”

90 to 100 percent. There is a 90 to 100 percent likelihood that children will experience delays in their cognitive, language or emotional development if they are exposed to as many as six risk factors – including poverty, maltreatment, low maternal education or having a mentally ill caregiver.

– 3:1 odds. The odds are 3:1 that adults who recall having at least seven serious adverse experiences in childhood will develop cardiovascular disease. “ A growing body of evidence now links significant adversity in childhood to increased risk of a range of adult health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, stroke, obesity and some forms of cancer.”

$4-$9 return. There is a $4 to $9 return on every dollar invested in early childhood programs. Three studies of such programs that followed participants into adulthood found that participants “benefitted from increased earnings while the public saw returns in the form of reduced special education, welfare and crime costs, and increased tax revenues from program participants later in life.”

The Center’s five important numbers lead to these five important conclusions:

– “Getting things right the first time is easier and more effective than trying to fix them later.”

– Children’s early life experiences matter because they have an impact on later learning, behavior and health.

– Children who experience toxic stress – combinations of poverty, abuse and maternal depression, for example – need “highly specialized interventions” as early as possible.

– Early childhood experiences “actually get under the skin and into the body” and have lifelong affects on physical and mental health.

– “All of society benefits from investments in early childhood programs.”  Children get a healthier start and a chance to grow into healthier adults. And fewer taxpayer dollars need to be spent on remedial education and healthcare.

The center’s other early childhood interactive features are available here.

As the center’s website explains, “A remarkable explosion of knowledge about the developing brain and the human genome, linked to advances in the behavioral and social sciences, offers policymakers, civic leaders and practitioners exceptional opportunities that did not exist a decade ago.”

Remember these five important numbers (there will be a quiz), and be sure to share the resource through social media.