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Good Start, Grow Smart:
The Bush Administration's Early Childhood Initiative

The Importance of Early Childhood Cognitive Development

Early childhood generally refers to the period from birth through age 5. A child’s cognitive development during early childhood, which includes building skills such as pre-reading, language, vocabulary, and numeracy, begins from the moment a child is born. Developmental scientists have found that the brain acquires a tremendous amount of information about language in the first year of life even before infants can speak. By the time babies utter or understand their first words, they know which particular sounds their language uses, what sounds can be combined to create words, and the tempo and rhythm of words and phrases.

There is a strong connection between the development a child undergoes early in life and the level of success that the child will experience later in life. For example, infants who are better at distinguishing the building blocks of speech at 6 months are better at other more complex language skills at 2 and 3 years of age and better at acquiring the skills for learning to read at 4 and 5 years of age. Not surprisingly, a child’s knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten is one of the most significant predictors of what that child’s tenth grade reading ability will be.


When young children are provided an environment rich in language and literacy interactions and full of opportunities to listen to and use language constantly, they can begin to acquire the essential building blocks for learning how to read. A child who enters school without these skills runs a significant risk of starting behind and staying behind.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Young children are cared for in a wide variety of settings. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 38 percent of children age 5 or younger receive care on a regular basis from parents only. The remaining 62 percent of children are in one or more arrangements, including care by other relatives (24 percent), non-relatives (17 percent), or center-based programs (34 percent), including Head Start (6 percent). Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are more likely than children younger than 3 to be cared for in a center-based program, such as child care and Head Start. Children under the age of 3 are more likely to be in the care of a parent than are children older than 3.

Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. It is significant that nearly 40 percent of young children are cared for primarily by a parent. The Bush Administration believes it is important to support parents and families in their most important task in life raising their children through several means, including providing them information about early childhood development.

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