Before they enter school: A chasm of learning experiences


Andrew Davis

Document Type



Elementary Education


A growing consensus in cognitive research points to the critical nature of the first five years of life. The National Research Councils’ landmark report, Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (2000) demonstrates how the brain develops in direct response to learning experiences that occur during the earliest stages of development. “Skill begets skill as brains are built in a hierarchical fashion…increasingly complex circuits and skills build on simpler circuits and skills over time” (Shonkoff & Bales, 2011, p. 23). But, as Hart & Risley (1995) demonstrated, children living in families impacted by poverty heard 30 million fewer words before the age of four, than their more affluent peers. This difference is more chasm than deficit; and without intentional effort to build children’s receptive and expressive vocabulary, this chasm grows wider with each passing year. Vocabulary learning is cumulative and a sensitivity to word learning needs to be established early if it is to support children’s reading proficiency by third grade.