Focus Areas

Early childhood development and learning: A strong start matters

Children’s early experiences shape their potential to succeed in school and beyond.

During the first three years of life, brain development is especially rapid, with more than 700 neural connections created each second.  This means that more is learned — at a faster rate — than at any other time in a child’s life.

That’s why parent, guardian and caregiver interactions with infants and toddlers have long-lasting impacts on development and functioning later on and throughout life.


earlychildhoodKey elements to ensure healthy physical, emotional and social growth include:

  • Nutrition – A properly balanced diet with healthy food choices affects a child’s physical and mental development, fosters good eating habits and helps to prevent and overcome illness.
  • Communication – Interaction by talking, reading, singing and playing with a young child supports his/her language, cognitive and social development and provides a language-rich environment.
  • Activity – Active play, movement and physical activity helps develop muscles, bone density and coordination, reinforces good exercise behavior patterns and boosts physical well-being.
  • Assessment – Early assessment, intervention and referral for a young child can help prevent, treat or manage many developmental challenges.
  • Environment – Raising a child in a positive, safe and loving environment has a profound impact on a child’s emotional, physical and social growth and development.

When babies and toddlers have strong emotional bonds with parents and caregivers as well as good health and wellness, care and positive early learning experiences, an enduring foundation is built for later success in school and beyond.

For videos, podcasts and information on early learning, behavior and development, visit Zero to Three.


Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and the home is a child’s first classroom. The role of the family in building warm, nurturing and caring relationships and environments is vital for infants and toddlers so they can thrive.

In everyday interactions, parents, guardians and caregivers can better support healthy growth and development in the early years by:

  • Setting up daily routines including healthy eating and sleeping habits
  • Responding to cues and clues by noticing changes in a child’s moods and habits
  • Surrounding a child with language by talking, reading and singing to him/her
  • Encouraging safe exploration, discovery and play
  • Talking to a child about feelings and teaching words to describe those feelings
  • Increasing outdoor play and limiting TV, video game and computer time
  • Communicating with daycare providers or teachers about how your child is doing
  • Recognizing that each child is unique.

By meeting their physical, emotional and social needs, parents play a vital role in nurturing the growth and development of young children to better prepare them to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.

For more tips, activities and information to support a young child’s growth and development, check out First 5 California.


High quality early learning experiences have a positive impact on school readiness, learning outcomes and student achievement all the way from preschool to high school.  As research indicates, these experiences help children get ready to learn — and succeed — later in school.

Children who attend quality preschools are better prepared for kindergarten, behave better in class, have higher math and reading skills, and are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college.

A quality preschool provides the opportunity for children to learn and enhance a range of new social and developmental assets, including how to:

  • Interact, engage and socialize with peers and teachers
  • Pay attention, follow directions and finish tasks
  • Develop large and small muscles as well as gross and fine motor skills
  • Practice new skills by himself or herself, and be persistent when learning something new
  • Build a strong foundation in cognitive skills such as pre-reading and early math.

Acquiring these important assets and skills at preschool significantly benefits a child’s school readiness, learning outcomes and later success in school.

For more ways to ensure your child is ready to learn, download the U.S. Department of Education’s Parent Power: Build the Bridge to Success. And for more information on why and how early childhood education matters, visit Early Edge California.


There are a number of factors to consider in deciding if a preschool is the right one for your child.  To get started, learn more about the people, program and place by researching the preschool online and by visiting the site.

When you visit a preschool, focus on the learning environment by looking at how well the classroom and play areas are set up for kids. Take time to observe how teachers interact with the children and how busy and engaged the children seem in an activity.

You can find out more by talking to the preschool director and asking questions about:

  • Teacher training – What is the training, education and qualifications of teachers and staff? How long have they worked at the preschool?  What is the teacher-to-child ratio?
  • Program/curriculum – What will my child learn throughout the year? Does the program use a curriculum and offer a variety of learning opportunities and activities?  Are nutritious and healthy meals and snacks provided for the children?
  • Site – Does the classroom have separate learning centers for reading, writing and art? Are there plenty of books and educational toys, such as blocks and puzzles?  Is there a well-equipped playground?
  • Family engagement – Does the program welcome, involve and engage families? Can parents stop by at any time during the day?  How is information shared between home and school on how kids are doing and what’s happening at school?

Choosing a high-quality preschool is a major decision for a family. By knowing more about people, programs and places for local preschools, you have wider options and are better prepared to select a preschool that is a good fit for your child. For preschools in your area, check out the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. And for additional information, visit California’s Early Head Start and Head Start Programs in California.


Give your child a strong start to build pre-literacy skills for school readiness with anytime, anywhere learning. Whether at home, on a walk or doing errands, help your child become a successful reader and learner by:

  • Playing simple name games by asking, “What is this?”
  • Labeling things at home, such as a door or a cup, and reading the labels together
  • Showing the ingredients as you cook and naming them together
  • Reading aloud the words on signs and in stores.

For a month’s worth of hands-on family literacy activities, download the English or Spanish 30 Days of Families Learning Together from the National Center for Families Learning.