VA's Preschool Initiative

Aug 25, 2015

Credit File Photo/ AP/Ted S. Warren

A special joint subcommittee of state lawmakers has been carefully examining Virginia’s preschool initiative to determine how such programs can be improved.  

The Delegates and Senators heard testimony indicating that high-quality preschool instruction can close the cognitive gap between rich and poor children by 40 percent long-term.  

From birth, the brain forms 42,000 new connections per minute—which build its architecture. Very early experiences establish either a sturdy or fragile foundation for all cumulative development and learning.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Katharine Stevens says the crucial period for physical, linguistic, and cognitive development is birth through age three before preschool.  She says much of that takes place through constant, positive back-and-forth interactions with responsive and caring adults—in a process known as “serve and return.” 

“That kind of interaction is so important that when a child doesn’t have it, it literally disrupts their brain development.  So when we’re talking about disadvantaged kids, really what we’re talking about is kids who did not have the kind of early experiences that enabled their brain to develop correctly.”

Stevens says young children often spend a lot of time in child care—but it should not just be babysitting.  She adds that while Pre-K is important, it may be more essential to invest in teaching parents and childcare providers about the interactions needed for brain development.