Key facts

  • Early childhood is the most important phase for overall development throughout the lifespan.
  • Brain and biological development during the first years of life is highly influenced by an infant’s environment.
  • Early experiences determine health, education and economic participation for the rest of life.
  • Every year, more than 200 million children under five years old fail to reach their full cognitive and social potential.
  • There are simple and effective ways for families and caregivers to ensure optimal child development.

Early childhood is the most intensive period of brain development during the lifespan. Adequate stimulation and nutrition are essential for development during the first three years of life. It is during these years that a child's brain is most sensitive to the influences of the external environment. Rapid brain development affects cognitive, social and emotional growth. Such development helps to ensure that each child reaches his or her potential and is a productive part of a rapidly changing, global society.

The more stimulating the early environment, the more a child develops and learns. Language and cognitive development are especially important during the first six months to three years of life. When children spend their early years in a less stimulating, or less emotionally and physically supportive environment, brain development is affected and leads to cognitive, social and behavioural delays. Later in life, these children will have difficulty dealing with complex situations and environments. High levels of adversity and stress during early childhood can increase the risk of stress-related disease and learning problems well into the adult years.

Read more:   http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs332/en/ 

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