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Close to Home: Early childhood education is a no-brainer

President Barack Obama's ongoing support for early childhood education and/or Head Start is at best a no-brainer.

Advertisers have known for years that the sooner you reach a child's brain, the easier it is to mold. In other words, follow the money and you will learn that the earlier you stimulate the child's brain, the greater the learning potential and eventual intelligence. For example, when 3-year-olds were shown photos of advertising icons, the overwhelming icon named was the McDonald's logo. This also was evident with Joe Camel of cigarette fame. The bottom line is that a child's brain can be changed.

Furthermore, evidence of the importance of early brain stimulation can be supported by basic brain physiology. The child's first brain growth spurt occurs in utero, when his brain grows to about one pound. The second growth spurt occurs during the first year of infancy, when another pound is added. Thereafter, the brain will have an extended growth period, from age 2 to about 14, when another pound is added.

The first two brain-growth periods are critical to the child's developing brain, indicating why nutrition and early stimulation, such as touching and bonding, are so critical to the child's developing brain. However, what separates us from other mammals and gives us a last reprieve is the third period, or when our mid-brain, which controls cognition and emotion, and executive brain develop. It is this third period during which greater nerve density occurs among our billions of neurons.

In short, the greater the density, the greater the learning potential and intelligence. Again, a good reason for Head Start.

Studies have shown the positive impact for 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in Head Start on pre-reading, pre-writing and vocabulary skills. Also discovered was that Head Start parents read more frequently to their children than those parents of children in a control group who were not enrolled in Head Start.

In addition, at 3 years old, Head Start children were shown to have larger vocabularies and higher social emotional development than children in comparable control groups.

Furthermore, an ongoing study was performed in California of more than 600 San Bernardino Head Start graduates. According to a 2003 study, research found that social structures, as a whole, saved nearly $9 for every $1 invested in Head Start. Benefits included increased earnings, employment and family stability and decreased welfare dependency, crime, grade repetition and special education services.

In addition, when a child receives early childhood education or Head Start, society is in effect stimulating the child's cognitive/emotional brain (limbic system) or hippocampus. When children develop a positive connection to learning and intelligence, they are building a foundation for higher order thinking or the stimulation of executive brain centers. The executive brain center is associated with higher order thinking, which could have a positive effect on the high school drop-out rates as well as juvenile delinquency.

Currently, to educate a high school student costs about $9,000 a year; to incarcerate a juvenile offender, the cost is about $85,000 a year. As stated, Head Start is the perfect example of a brain-training no-brainer.

<i>David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at davidsortino@comastcast.net or contact him through his blog "Awakening every child's genius," on pressdemocrat.com.</i>


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