Grade-level reading is achievable with policies and practices that reflect reading is a cumulative process that develops from birth and is rooted in early brain development. Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “brains are built not born.”
To build a strong foundation for learning, third grade reading and life success, children need health and development on track beginning at birth, supported and supportive families and communities and high quality birth-to-eight learning and education.
Why Birth to 8?
The most rapid period of development in human life occurs from birth to age eight. What happens in these first eight years sets the foundation for all of the years that follow.
Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “brains are built not born.”
What does he mean? The brain is one of the only organs not fully developed at birth. Most of the cells are there, but the connections – the wiring that forms the architecture – is not. These connections develop in early childhood. Experiences and environment determine which connections get used more and therefore, strengthened. Those that are used less fade. A child’s interactions with the world determine how these connections (wiring) are formed, providing either a strong or weak foundation for future health and learning.
Third grade has become a focal point because it is when children go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Research has shown that that transition is so important that end of third grade outcomes can predict academic achievement and career success.
For optimal development and a strong foundation, children need good health, supportive and supported families and communities, and high quality early learning and school experiences.
A Strong Track Record of Innovation and Success
North Carolina has a proud history of innovation and success. We have much to be proud of when it comes to educating young children. We were the first state to make full-day kindergarten universally available. We created the T.E.A.C.H. project, which is now a national model to provide early educators with scholarships to obtain higher levels of education.
We pioneered the nation’s first comprehensive early childhood initiative, Smart Start, to improve the quality of child care, provide access to health screenings and offer support to families. We launched NC PreK (formerly More at Four) to provide at-risk children with high quality learning environments.
At every level, local citizens, county policymakers, state leaders, organizations and many others have taken bold action in unprecedented ways. As a result, more of our children are in high quality child care, our prekindergarten program is among the best in the country, we have the highest rate of developmental screenings in the nation and we reduced our early grade retention rate by a third in the past decade.
It’s a track record to be proud of . . . and to build on.