Early Childhood Engagement for Lifelong Learning
From conception to five years of age, early childhood is an extremely important period for cognitive and psychosocial development. Children’s high levels of brain plasticity and neurogenesis make them especially receptive to external stimuli. Young children’s minds are still learning how to learn, and simple play activities that stimulate the brain through all the senses can help improve their ability to think, communicate, and connect with others. Research from around the world suggests that guaranteeing such early childhood stimulation is critical.
Children in developing countries may have the most to gain from policy interventions that promote early childhood stimulation. Poverty can limit parents’ ability to spend time and money to play with, feed, and educate their children, resulting in a less stimulating home environment. Children in poor households may thus start life at a disadvantage and can fall further behind their more advantaged peers throughout life. Millions of children under the age of five are at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential, with most living in extreme poverty.
Policymakers know this; UNICEF estimates that approximately seventy countries have implemented early childhood development programs. However, these interventions vary substantially in design, effectiveness, cost, and scalability. To support parents in providing children with more stimulating home environments as well as to address the related risk factors of poverty and poor nutrition, policymakers are increasingly demanding integrated and scalable early childhood development programs.
A growing body of randomized evaluations has rigorously evaluated stimulation and nutrition interventions, and tested their separate and combined impacts. Two studies, in particular, provide actionable lessons for early childhood stimulation programs. Longer-term findings from a small and carefully designed intervention in Jamaica provided a proof of concept for a more recent cost-effective program in Colombia implemented at scale.
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