Building Adult Capabilities

The thing about science is it’s rarely finished – questions answered prompt new questions to be asked. And so it is with the work of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. Just when you thought you had the neuroscience down, they share new research about early childhood programs and a new paradigm for practice and policy.

Al Race, Deputy Director and Director of Communications and Public Engagement at the Center for the Developing Child, highlighted the importance of building adult capabilities as part of child development policy and practice in his Opening Keynote Address at the 2014 National Smart Start Conference

The Research

Todd Grindal and his colleagues posed the question: Does the addition of parenting education services to early childhood education programs yield greater benefits for children and their families?

They looked at two types of programs: 1) Providing parents with information or encouraging parental involvement with the ECE program; and 2) Modeling and providing parents’ opportunities to practice developmentally appropriate adult/child interactions.

They found that early childhood programs that provide parenting education with modeling or opportunities to practice were associated with larger impacts on children’s pre-academic skills than those programs that do not.

A New Paradigm

The research serves as a foundation for the Center for the Developing Child’s new paradigm for policy and practice and is the basis for the following hypothesis:

Early experiences affect lifelong health and learning.
Healthy development requires protection and enrichment.

Protection and enrichment for young children require:
Strengthening adult capabilities that are the common foundations of effective parenting, economic self-sufficiency and responsible citizenship.
Reducing community sources of toxic effects on healthy development.

The Center developed a short video that describes the need to focus on building the capabilities of caregivers and strengthening communities. Together, caregivers and communities form the environment of relationships essential to children’s lifelong learning, health and behavior.