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Early childhood education has been getting a lot of attention from the media since President Obama’s acknowledged its benefits during his State of the Union address on February 12, 2013. And well it should, when you consider that 90% of children’s neurodevelopment occurs prior to age five.

From birth, children long to belong. They reach out to others through gestures, babbling, and facial expressions. The willingness of caregivers to respond with similar gestures and vocalizations is a universal support for healthy brain development.

The fact that both the structure and chemistry of the brain develops through social interaction demands a proactive approach to early care. How infants and young children are cared for determines their capacity to think, to feel, and to engage.

Attentive, protective adult relationships help children develop the neural structures they need to feel safe and manage their reactions to events around them. Inattentive or harsh adult relationships increase children’s production of stress hormones. Persistent activation of the stress response can damage the architecture of the brain and impair developmental outcomes.

Access to quality early childhood programs increases the likelihood that all children will reap the benefits of interacting and playing with caring adults. These include learning about the give and take of relationships and treating others with empathy and respect- both essential components of children’s mental health.

For more information about early childhood’s role in children’s mental health, check out Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu