The benefits of Quality Early Childhood Education and Care

Early child care programs and services may seem to be more about family choice and less about our domestic economy, but they do play an important role in our country’s shared prosperity.

Like any investment the greater our outlay now in our children’s healthy development, the greater our shared prosperity in the future—in our communities’ health, productivity, and civic engagement.

In a recent 2013 study, Modernity, Morals and More Information: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Early Child Development in Australia Childcare: key areas of difference were found in how ‘experts’ and the community perceive Early childhood settings.

While experts see childcare as a site where key developmental processes take place, members of the Australian public have a different mental image of childcare — as a custodial institution where physical safety is the primary concern. Australians conceive of children as passive absorbers of content. The expert account, on the other hand, is built on the understanding that active and participatory interactions between child and caregiver drive development. Pg3.

The first years of a child’s life, from 0 to 5, are critical to brain development. What happens in these years plays an important role in determining children’s later educational, health, and social outcomes.

What many adults may see as simple child’s play—from babbling to crawling to moments of discovery—is actually hard work: for young children, the development process is about the brain learning to weave skills together. Like the many strands of a strong rope, the emotional, cognitive, social, and physical skills children need to function well are interdependent. As children’s brains develop, they learn to weave, stretch and reweave these skills into skill ropes that they use for all of life’s tasks and activities. Building strong skill ropes requires positive relationships with adults, interactive play, and the opportunity to explore new things in a supportive environment.

High quality child care programs are an important resource for children’s healthy development, because well-trained educators know both how to support brain-building activities and how to recognise potential developmental problems or delays that need to be addressed. Think of them as developmental amplifiers. Just as an amplifier makes a signal louder and clearer, good child care programs enhance the important developmental work that families are already engaged in with their children through daily interaction and play.

For example, the amplifying effects that early child care programs provide are especially important to improving the cognitive, emotional, and physical outcomes of children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with additional needs. Improving their outcomes increases their likelihood of becoming engaged citizens.

It makes sense to use our resources to support high quality early child care programs and policies that will yield the best return for our country’s shared future.

Framing Child Development and Care in Australia toolkit. Sponsored by the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia with the support of The Benevolent Society, Berry Street, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (Victoria), the Department of Education (Australia), Early Childhood Australia, Goodstart Early Learning, Mission Australia, the Parenting Research Centre, The Smith Family and UNICEF Australia.

Kendall-Taylor, Nathaniel and Eric Lindland. (2013) Modernity, Morals and More Information: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Early Child Development in Australia. Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute.