What Is Early Childhood Development? A Guide to the Science (ECD 1.0)

Healthy development in the early years (particularly birth to three) provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation. What can we do during this incredibly important period to ensure that children have a strong foundation for future development? The Center on the Developing Child created this Guide to Early Childhood Development (ECD) to help parents, caregivers, practitioners, and policymakers understand the importance of early childhood development and learn how to support children and families during this critical stage.

Visit “Introducing ECD 2.0” for new resources that build on the knowledge presented below.

Step 1: Why Is Early Childhood Important?

This section introduces you to the science that connects early experiences from birth (and even before birth) to future learning capacity, behaviors, and physical and mental health.

Brain Hero

This 3-minute video portrays how actions taken by parents, teachers, policymakers, and others can affect life outcomes for both the child and the surrounding community.

InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development

The Science of ECD video still

This video from the InBrief series addresses basic concepts of early childhood development, established over decades of neuroscience and behavioral research.

InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development

InBrief: The science of early childhood development cover thumbnail

This brief explains how the science of early brain development can inform investments in early childhood, and helps to illustrate why child development—particularly from birth to five years—is a foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society.

Step 2: How Does Early Child Development Happen?

Now that you understand the importance of ECD, this section digs deeper into the science, including how early experiences and relationships impact and shape the circuitry of the brain, and how exposure to toxic stress can weaken the architecture of the developing brain.

Three Core Concepts in Early Development

Advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains, for better or worse. This three-part video series explains.

8 Things to Remember about Child Development

children with caregiver/teacher

In this important list, featured in the From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts report, the Center on the Developing Child sets the record straight about some aspects of early child development.

InBrief: The Science of Resilience

The Science of Resilience InBrief

This brief summarizes the science of resilience and explains why understanding it will help us design policies and programs that enable more children to reach their full potential.

Step 3: What Can We Do to Support Child Development?

Understanding how important early experiences and relationships are to lifelong development is one step in supporting children and families. The next step is to apply that knowledge to current practices and policies. This section provides practical ways that practitioners and policymakers can support ECD and improve outcomes for children and families.

From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts

A cover image from the Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts paper, showing the title and an image of two parents kissing their baby

This report synthesizes 15 years of dramatic advances in the science of early childhood and early brain development and presents a framework for driving science-based innovation in early childhood policy and practice.

Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families

Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes—as well as the core capabilities adults need to thrive—provides a strong foundation upon which policymakers and civic leaders can design a shared and more effective agenda.

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