Why Do We Dance?

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At Inner City-Inner Child, dance is a vitally important part of our work. Our Dancing With Books program deeply connects preschool children with books through singing, music, and movement. We celebrate all kinds of dance in our programming, including African, step, mambo, merengue, salsa, and freestyle.

Dance has been integral to the human experience since ancient times. It is part of virtually every culture on the planet, and the variety of dances across the globe is astounding. But even the most avid dance fans have wondered at times, Why do we do this?

There are many theories about why we dance and enjoy it so much. A common thread among them is that dance serves an evolutionary purpose and is fundamental to our survival and well-being. We highlight below the reasons for dancing that are most apparent and meaningful to early childhood education and our work at Inner City-Inner Child.

Brains in Our Feet

A recent study validates what many of us understand intuitively when we learn a new dance, whether it involves an advanced ballet technique or the Cupid Shuffle: dancing makes us smarter, and mastering a dance is an expression of our intelligence. The study compared the neurological effects of dancing, stretching, and walking, and found that of the three activities, dancing was the most beneficial to the brain. As the 1970s disco band Chic phrased it, when we dance, our “brains are in [our] feet.”

The compelling connection between dance and brain function is not lost on us at Inner City-Inner Child. Our assessments show that preschool children make gains in five key learning areas—literacy, math, creativity, physical development, and social-emotional development—after participating in our Dancing With Books program.

So when children in our program like Mateo work hard to master the dance steps we created to bring Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe picture book to life, they are not only having fun, but are also stimulating early childhood brain development.

Connecting and Belonging

Another theory about why we dance is that dancing demonstrates our ability to connect with others. As one social science reporter framed it: “Dancing together, especially in the synchrony, can signal that you are actually simpatico with lots of other people.”

We see this regularly in the early child development centers and school pre-K classrooms where we conduct our Dancing With Books program. Each classroom often has at least one child who is noticeably more reluctant than others to participate when our residency begins. It is, in many cases, a child who is slow to bond with the other children and adults in the classroom in general.

As children like Kayla and Madison show us, joining a dance circle gives children a special opportunity to participate with others and feel like part of the classroom community. Singing and dancing with their classmates in the circle has a remarkable way of releasing their inhibitions and improving their social development. It provides a sense of belonging that often endures long after our residency ends.

Happy Feet

If you’ve ever seen the video for Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” you have a clear sense that there is a strong connection between dance and happiness. But do we dance because we are happy, or does dancing make us happy?

As many of us have experienced personally, the dance-happiness current can flow in either direction. What some may find surprising, however, is just how powerful the current is: dance has been shown to affect brain chemistry and improve the mood of people with depression.

At Inner City-Inner Child, children like Kayla and Madison show us the power of dance to bring happiness to the spirit and feet of young children each time we enter a classroom. That is reward enough for the work that we do, yet it serves a larger purpose as well: children learn more effectively and have more positive long-term feelings about school when they are happy in the classroom. But we’ll say more about that in a future post.

An Invitation to You

A blog can hardly convey the high degree of learning and profound sense of belonging and happiness that children experience when they dance, sing, and read in Inner City-Inner Child’s Dancing With Books program. To learn more about how to support our work with professional development programs in DC, we invite you to watch our video and click here. Let’s keep dancing!

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.

Teaching Artist Profile: Let’s Go Traveling with Magpie

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We wish all students, teachers, and parents a warm welcome back to school! We are excited to mark the start of the 2017-18 school year by adding a new feature to the Inner City-Inner Child blog: from time to time, we will profile the extraordinary teaching artists, early childhood teachers, and partner organizations that make our early childhood development programs a success.

We begin with Magpie, the husband and wife team of Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, who have been an integral part of Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artist team since the inception of our Dancing With Books classroom residency program.

 

Childhood Years: “If You Weren’t Singing, You Weren’t Breathing”

The couple met when Terry was a student at Kent State University in Ohio, and Greg was a local resident who happened to live on the same street as Terry. After performing separately at a folk music festival at Kent State, they sought to form a band with a third musician. The trio did not materialize, but Terry and Greg combined their talents and have performed as a dynamic voice, guitar, and songwriting duo since 1973.

The two have similar backgrounds: both are from Ohio, grew up in socially conscious families, and have had deep engagement with music since childhood. Terry was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches as a child. Her grandfather played multiple instruments and everyone in her family—and her mother’s large family before her—sang. As Terry describes it: “If you weren’t singing, you weren’t breathing.”

Greg started playing guitar in fourth grade. He drew inspiration from his father, who worked for the National Urban League. By the time he and Terry met in Kent, both were serious, content-oriented musicians who were active in the civil rights movement.

 

Music with a Purpose

From the start of their career, Terry and Greg have been committed to making music with a purpose. Their music covers a vast range of social issues, including Civil War and civil rights history, environmental stewardship, and the labor movement. As talented singers, instrumentalists, and lyricists, they work comfortably across a wide spectrum of music genres, such as folk, blues, and jazz. Through the years, they have worked with luminaries such as the SNCC Freedom Singers and Pete Seeger. They have also performed the music of singer-songwriter legend Phil Ochs, and have worked closely with his sister, Sonny Ochs.

With a group name like Magpie, it is not surprising that Terry and Greg are fond of birds, and that the magpie bird is, in fact, the inspiration for their name. Magpie birds have many of the characteristics that describe the pair’s personalities, and their approach to music and life. These birds are loquacious; have iridescent feathers that reflect the spectrum of the rainbow (much like broad spectrum of Terry and Greg’s music); build domed nests with shiny objects (which Terry and Greg liken to their “shiny” songs and stories); leave their nests for others to use when they are finished (in the same way that Terry and Greg seek to leave a legacy to younger generations through their music); and are celebrated in folk tales around the world as intelligent keepers of the past, present, and future. The Magpie moniker is also much quicker and easier to say and remember than Terry and Greg’s often mispronounced last names.

Magpie’s lifestyle is a strong testament to their commitment to music with a purpose. They spend weeks at a time on the road, performing their music in concert halls, coffeehouses, classrooms, and other venues around the country. When they are not performing, they are often hard at work writing songs, plays, and education programs. A vacation for them is spending time at home in their mountainside residence in upstate New York.

 

Imaginary Journeys

The effect of Magpie’s music on classrooms that participate in Inner City-Inner Child’s early childhood development program Dancing With Books is magical. As children like Mateo know, Magpie delivers riveting performances that bring picture books to life through an inspired layering of lyrics, voices, string arrangements, choreography, and passion—passion for teaching young children, enhancing education, and promoting their vision of a better world through the art of music.

A vivid example of this is Dancing With Books’ Imaginary Journeys residency, in which Magpie amplifies Stella Blackstone’s Bear on a Bike picture book through an original song, “Let’s Go Traveling.” This upbeat tune, which encourages children to use their imagination to travel to far destinations like Cuba and Ghana, showcases Magpie’s remarkable ability to transport listeners to a distant time and place through their music.

Whether performing alone or in vibrant collaboration with the African drummers, vocalists, and other teaching artists on Inner City-Inner Child’s team, Magpie’s presence in the classroom is transformative. Teachers repeatedly tell us how Magpie’s music unlocks hard to reach children, and takes children like Kayla, Madison and Mateo on a phenomenal journey that allows them to reach a new level of self-expression. Children and teachers miss Magpie when their classroom residency ends, but they are left with the enduring gift of re-imagining what it means to engage with a book.

 

An Invitation to You

No blog can fully capture the extraordinary effect of Magpie and the rest of Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artist team on the children in our programs. We invite you to watch our video and click here if you’d like to learn more about how to support our work. Let’s go traveling!

 

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.

The ICIC Guide to Summer Reading Fun (Part 2)

August greetings from Inner City-Inner Child! We wish a continued season of warmth, fun, and reading to you and all of the early learners in your life. It has been a pleasure to share with you some of our favorite ways to enjoy books with young children. This month, we feature two additional books that we use in our Dancing With Books program: Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming, and The Sounds Around Town by Maria Carluccio.

We love these beautifully illustrated books, which encourage children to revel in the everyday sights and sounds in farm and urban communities. They use simple words, rhyming, and repetition to create a delightful chorus of noises that your child will love to re-create. Many of the words in these books may be among the first that your child learns to read.

Whether you live in the city, on a farm, or in the suburbs, you can use the same approaches that we highlighted in our July blog to enjoy these special books with your preschool child:

  • Read. Cozy up together—on a chair, rug, park bench, picnic blanket, or even a Metro seat—and read to your child. Reading to your child is a vital step in your child learning how to read. The time and attention you give your child make you the star of the show, so tap into your inner Broadway star and read with expression. Let your child read to you, too. Even if your child has not yet learned to decode words, your child can assemble words from memory or imagination to go with the pictures in the book.

  • Visit. Head to a zoo, park, outdoor market, or one of the other destinations featured in these books with your child. Take Barnyard Banter or The Sounds Around Town with you to compare and contrast the pictures in the book with the destination you are visiting. If possible, take photographs of you and your child at the site to remember your visit. Consider taking a snack or lunch, a blanket, and other books to read while you are there.

  • Listen. One of our favorite Dancing With Books activities is encouraging children to recall the sounds in their own neighborhoods, which may be the same as those in the book or different. The sounds of dogs barking, people talking, paper rustling, music blaring, and the wind blowing are all around us. Encourage your child to hear them and use his or her own words to name them.

  • Sing, dance, and drum. Through Inner City-Inner Child’s early childhood development program Dancing With Books, teaching artists bring picture books to life by using singing, movement, and musical instruments to amplify the words and themes in the book. Whether or not you are an artist or can carry a tune, you and your child can create your own songs and dances around the words in Barnyard Banter and The Sounds Around Town, and add a drum beat by tapping on any safe, hard surface.

  • Make. Have your child make an original book, using the sounds that he or she identifies in the above Listen activity. No fancy materials are necessary—just use plain or scrap paper, crayons, and a stapler. Let your child draw the images freely, without correcting or criticizing. You can either have your child do the writing, write words that your child dictates to you, or do a combination of both.


An Invitation to You

A blog cannot begin to convey the sense of excitement that children feel when Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artists share Barnyard Banter and The Sounds Around Town in preschool classrooms. To learn more about how to support our early childhood development programs, we invite you to watch our video and click here. Keep reading!

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.

The ICIC Guide to Summer Reading Fun (Part 1)

Happy summer! Inner City-Inner Child wishes you and all of the early learners in your life a warm season of fun and reading. We are pleased to share with you in our next two posts some of our favorite ways to enjoy books with young children. This month, we send a shout out to the teenage photographers and writers at Reach Incorporated, who created A to Z: The Real DC (available through Shout Mouse Press).

This is a fabulous book that takes young readers on an alphabetical and rhyming journey around DC, celebrating its vibrant neighborhoods, culture, and attractions. From it, children learn that A is not just for apple, but is also for Anacostia. They also learn that Ben's Chili Bowl, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, quadrants, the Supreme Court, and the X2 bus are all a treasured part of the unique city that they call home. It’s the ultimate staycation guide for DC area preschoolers and their parents!

Thanks to a generous grant from a donor, Inner City-Inner Child has the privilege this year of providing copies of A to Z: The Real DC to hundreds of children in DC’s early childhood centers and classrooms. We have also incorporated the book into our Dancing With Books curriculum. Our ultimate goal is to make this wonderful book available to every preschooler in DC.

Here are our suggestions for enjoying A to Z: The Real DC with your child this summer:

  • Read. Find a cozy place to sit—a chair, rug, park bench, picnic blanket, or even a seat on the Metro—and read to your child with expression and enthusiasm. In the early years, reading to your child is vital to your child’s reading development. Let your child read to you, too. Even if your child has not yet learned to decode words, your child can look at the photographs in the books and assemble words to go with them from memory or imagination.
     
  • Visit. Pick one, a few, or even all of the destinations in A to Z: The Real DC and go there with your child. Take the book with you to compare the photographs in the book to the actual destinations. If possible, take photographs of you and your child at each site to remember your visit. Depending on the site, you may wish to bring a snack or lunch, a blanket, and other books to read while you are there.
     
  • Look. One of the most clever features in A to Z: The Real DC is that it captures  images of objects around the city that resemble letters of the alphabet. Bike racks, fences, leaves, shadows, sidewalk brick patterns are all among the letter-makers that surround us every day and appear in the book. Help your find these images in the book, then encourage your child to look around and find objects in your own environment that resemble letters.
     
  • Sing, dance, and drum. Inner City-Inner Child’s Dancing With Books program brings picture books to life through teaching artists who use singing, movement, and musical instruments to amplify the words and themes in the book. But you don’t have to be a teaching artist for you and your child to dance with books at home. Have fun creating your own songs and dances around the words in the book, and tap on any safe, hard surface to add a drum beat
     
  • Make. Have your child make an original alphabet book, featuring items in your own home environment or neighborhood. You don’t need fancy materials—just plain or scrap paper, crayons, and a stapler will do. Let your child draw the images freely, without criticizing your child's work. Your child can also do the writing, you can write words that your child dictates to you, or you and your child can do a combination of both.

    While you’re at it, check out the websites of Reach Incorporated, Shout Mouse Press, and Shootback—the organizations that collaborated to make A to Z: The Real DC possible.

An Invitation to You
A blog can never do “ ‘J’ is for justice” to what children gain when Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artists share A to Z: The Real DC in early childhood centers and classrooms. To learn more about how to support our art education programs for children and teachers, we invite you to watch our video and click here. Happy summer reading!

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.

The Arts, Culture, and Child Care: Good for Business and Everyone’s Business

The threat of funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and other arts agencies provides an opportunity to highlight the frequently overlooked value of the arts and culture industry to U.S. business and the economy. As an arts education organization that focuses on early childhood, we also cover in this post the similar way in which the child care industry (of which early childhood centers are a large component) makes a substantial—though often unrecognized—business and economic contribution to our nation.


Arts and Culture Industry

The benefits of arts education programs for children are far-reaching. We have previously discussed compelling reasons to value arts education and the power of the arts to turn around struggling schools. In addition to those and other benefits, the arts and culture industry has a positive economic impact that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) describes as “easy to miss.”

The NEA, NEH, and CPB account for a mere 0.02% of federal spending. By contrast, BEA’s statistics show that in 2014, arts and cultural activity:

  • Accounted for 4.8 million wage and salary jobs across the nation

  • Comprised 4.2 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), or $729.6 billion, contributing more to GDP than the construction ($586.7 billion), and transportation and warehousing ($464.1 billion) industries

  • Made a larger contribution to GDP than 45 states, including Pennsylvania ($663 billion) and New Jersey ($537 billion)

Further, the arts and culture industry benefits taxpayers throughout the United States—not just in large coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles. As the BEA’s Employment Location Quotient Index map shows, the arts and culture industry provides a greater proportionate share of jobs in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado than it does nationally. The industry also generates significant event-related commerce for other industries such as food, lodging, and transportation.
 

Child Care Industry

Similarly, the child care industry provides easily overlooked, widespread economic benefits that sharply exceed what the U.S government spends on the industry. As we have highlighted previously, the economist James Heckman has written at length about the public impact of quality early childhood development programs, including reductions in health care costs and crime. Furthermore, a 2015 report commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development states that while total federal and state government provided $15.8 billion in child care subsidies in 2012-2013:

  • In 2012, more than 768,500 child care facilities produced revenue totaling $41.5 billion and employed 1.57 million wage and salary and self-employed workers in the U.S.

  • Service industries of comparable size to the child care industry in 2012 included women’s clothing stores ($43.1 billion), waste collection ($41.3 billion), and home furnishing stores ($40.4 billion)

  • The child care industry supported another $41.6 billion in “spillover” (spending) in other industries in 2012: $17.8 billion in “indirect” activity from the child care industry’s purchases of goods and services from other industries and $23.8 billion in “induced” activity from consumer spending out of child care wages and salaries.
     

Conclusion

The arts, culture, and child care industries have far-reaching business and economic value, just as industries like construction, transportation, and retail do. Moreover, the arts, culture, and child care industries yield significant benefits beyond their cost to the federal government in the form of jobs, increased commerce, and reduced costs in other areas. Their benefits extend not only to direct producers and consumers of these industries such as artists, arts patrons, and parents, but also to other industries, and to taxpayers across our entire nation—which makes them both good for business and everyone’s business.

Meet Kayla

Photo by Jay Westcott

As the education program of Dumbarton Concerts, Inner City-Inner Child brings music, dance, and visual arts to children and teachers in the communities of Washington, D.C. that remain mostly forgotten in a city that is rapidly gentrifying.  These young scholars represent the future of their communities, the city of Washington, and the nation, and our mission has never been more urgent.  Our belief is that the arts are critical to intellectual and social development in early childhood, particularly for children of low socio-economic status. We provide tools for these children to enter kindergarten ready to learn.  We am proud to share news about Kayla, one of our recent success stories from our Dancing With Books program:

At DC Citywide Child Development Center, an early childhood center in Southeast Washington, the playground is littered with discarded furniture, and the heavy padlocked door is more suited to a prison than a preschool. Kayla, a four-year-old whose father is incarcerated, always furrows her brow and retreats when an ICIC Teaching Artist approaches her.  Her father’s absence has made her reluctant to bond with her teachers and form trusting relationships.  Even after several weeks of working with a folk music duo and an African drummer, she is painfully shy. One day, the dance teacher tells Kayla and her classmates that they are going to become the ocean they have been reading about in their book “Skip Through the Seasons”.  The Teaching Artist pulls out yards of billowing turquoise silk. The fabric, smooth as butterfly wings, grazes Kayla’s face and her worry lines suddenly vanish.  For the first time in seven weeks Kayla smiles, diving into the pile of soft silk.  Kayla laughs, her brown eyes full of wonder, and she finally joins the group. Waving the fabric in all directions, Kayla creates ocean waves. She and her classmates learn to read by singing about the seasons, using sign language to swim with dolphins, and dancing like snowflakes falling to the ground. They learn math concepts to the rhythm of an African drum.   At the end of the residency, Kayla and her friends receive a backpack full of new books to take home. For many of the children, these are the first books they have ever owned.

Learn more about Inner City Inner Child and how you can support children like Kayla:

www.innercity-innerchild.org

Mateo’s Story: Love of Learning Is in the Bag

It is mid-autumn at an elementary school in Washington, DC’s Ward 8, but today feels more like a summer day. The school’s bright, yellow walls mirror the warmth and cheer of the balmy weather outside. Later this morning, the school will host performances that mark the end of Inner City-Inner Child’s Dancing With Books program in two of its pre-kindergarten classrooms. Dancing With Books is a five- to 10-week classroom residency in which teaching artists use music, dance, drumming, and art to teach literacy, math, and other skills to preschool children in low-income neighborhoods in DC.

Across the city, preparations for today’s performances are taking place. Inner City-Inner Child staff members are putting colorful backpacks into a small truck and driving to the school through morning rush hour traffic. Two master teaching artists with decades of experience performing with children are loading an acoustic guitar and art supplies into their car, and are also heading to the school. Meanwhile, two teachers are re-arranging the furniture in their classroom to accommodate guests, parents are adjusting their morning schedules, and some excited pre-K students are looking forward to hosting their parents at school on this special day. One of those students is four year-old Mateo, whose radiant, brown eyes and happy spirit make every day feel special.

Mateo’s sunny classroom is abuzz with anticipation. He and some of his classmates look eagerly at the door, and their heads fill with questions: Is Mommy coming? Will she see me? Is Daddy here? Will he sing with me? Mateo can barely contain his excitement when his mother arrives. Although she is there to watch him perform, he turns several times to watch her. But that doesn’t stop him from showing his mother what he has learned from Dancing With Books.

It’s show time! Mateo finds his spot on the classroom’s circle line and performs a lively mélange of original songs and choreography that ICIC’s master teaching artists have created to bring Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe picture book to life. While a guitar strums beautifully in the background, he and the other students turn their heads like penguins, bend their necks like giraffes, and raise their shoulders like buffaloes, encouraged by the book’s irresistible invitation: “Can you do it? I can do it!”

Manya Stojic’s picture book, Rain, is next, for which Mateo and his classmates students don imaginary zebra stripes, rhinoceros horns, and lion claws. They use expressive sign language and sing the unforgettable chorus that the teaching artists have created to tell this suspenseful story about the cycles of rain and drought on an African savannah:

The r-a-a-a-a-a-i-n is coming!
The r-a-a-a-a-a-i-n is coming!
The r-a-a-a-a-a-i-n is coming!
Can you smell [see/hear/feel/taste] the rain?

At the end of the performance, Mateo and each of his classmates receives a backpack full of books to take home, including From Head to Toe and Rain. For some of the students, these may be the first books they have ever owned. Before Mateo’s mother and the other parents leave, the students enthusiastically agree to continue singing, dancing, and reading with their parents at home.

It is now time for other classroom activities, and Mateo’s teacher instructs him and the other students to put their backpacks in their cubbies. Amid the chatter at the cubbies, one child’s voice rises above the others and declares, “I love my new books!” The Dancing With Books residency in Mateo’s classroom is over, but what the students, teachers, and parents gain from the experience will endure long after today’s performance. When Mateo goes home today, picture books won’t be the only thing in his bag. A love of books and learning will be there, too.

To learn more about how our programs help children like Mateo develop lifelong love of learning, click here

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.

Closing the Achievement Gap Through Quality Learning Experiences: The Importance of Being Early

Our nation faces a persistent education achievement gap, marked by a vast difference in the academic performance of children in underserved and more advantaged socioeconomic groups. The results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, show that nearly half (48%) of fourth grade students who received a fully subsidized school lunch were below a basic level of reading proficiency, compared to 17% of the students who were not eligible to receive a subsidized lunch.

The cost of the achievement gap is extremely high. A study by McKinsey & Company estimates that the gap has cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars in economic output, and that “each of the long-standing achievement gaps among U.S. students of differing ethnic origins, income levels, and school systems represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains.”

Educators, policymakers, and others have appropriately considered a wide range of approaches to solving the complex problem of closing the achievement gap, examples of which include changing teaching and disciplinary practices, increasing school funding, and providing additional support to disadvantaged families. A new study co-authored by the economist James Heckman, and the growing body of research on brain and cognitive development, illuminate three key reasons why providing quality learning experiences early in the lives of children is an essential component of the solution.

1.     Rapid brain development occurs during the early years.

Studies published by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child inform us that between birth and age three, the human brain develops in remarkable ways that differ from the development that takes place during any other stage in life. During this critical period, the brain forms a foundation for all later learning, health, and behavior.

A child’s experiences during the first three years of life affect the strength of that foundation. High quality interactions between children and their caregivers during this period are especially vital for children’s development of vision, hearing, language, and higher cognitive skills. This makes it important for children under three who spend time away from their parents during the day to interact with skilled caregivers who engage children in “serve and return” and other behaviors that support healthy brain development.

The opportunity to support healthy brain development does not end at age three, but providing early quality support can contribute to a child’s continued development and success in later years, and avoid the cost of remediation when children miss those opportunities.

2.    The achievement gap begins before kindergarten, and when left unaddressed, continues beyond high school

Although studies of the achievement gap in the U.S. typically focus on school performance, research indicates that the gap begins long before school starts. A recent report by Child Trends concludes that in Washington, DC, the gap begins in infancy. The report details how “glaring inequities” in economic status, health, and other aspects of well-being contribute to disparities in early learning and development among the approximately 9,000 babies born each year in our nation’s capital.

Similarly, a study by psychologists at Stanford University found that by age 18 months, “significant disparities” in language proficiency between infants from disadvantaged and more advantaged backgrounds were already evident. By age 24 months, there was a six-month gap between the groups in “processing skills critical to language development.”

Over time, these disparities can worsen and have long-term adverse consequences that persist into adulthood. Without intervention, underserved children who start school behind their more advantaged peers continue to lag behind them in later years in school, are more likely to drop out of high school, and face greater employment challenges.

3.    Quality early learning experiences help close the achievement gap and yield lasting benefits

New research by James Heckman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California provides powerful evidence that making quality learning experiences available to underserved children early in life supports their cognitive and social-emotional development, helps close the achievement gap, and benefits them for years after school ends.

Heckman’s research analyzes the long-term benefits of two identical preschool experiments conducted in North Carolina in the 1970s that focused on disadvantaged African American children. As part of the experiments, one group of children (the treatment group) received quality, early childhood-center-based care that included nutrition, access to health care, and early learning, from ages eight weeks to five years. The other group of children (the control group) received either lower-quality center-based care or in-home care during the same period.

The Heckman study examined the effects of these experiments on the participants through age 21. It found that participants in the treatment group had “significantly better life outcomes”—as measured by their cognitive and social-emotional development, high school graduation rates, years of education, health, adult employment, and adult income—than participants in the control group (though the results were different for females and males). Consistent with the Harvard brain development research, Heckman states that “the defining characteristic of a high-quality program, more than a certain staffing ratio or training regimen, is empathetic adults who engage meaningfully with their young charges, giving them personalized attention as they grow and develop.”

The Heckman study also found that:

  • Early exposure to quality care and engaged caregivers from birth gave participants a boost in IQ that endured through the final measurement at age 21.
     
  • IQ gains occurred early in the lives of the participants, with most of the growth in cognitive skills taking place by age three.
     
  • Providing quality care to children from ages zero to five resulted in clear benefits to the public, including reductions in health care costs and crime. Overall, providing quality care produced a 13% per year return on investment, which is significantly higher than the 7-10% return on investment associated with preschool programs for three- to four-year-olds.

Heckman asserts that these results present “very strong evidence for supporting this kind of program going forward.” He stated, “The data speaks for itself. Investing in the continuum of learning from birth to age 5 not only impacts each child, but it also strengthens our country’s workforce today and prepares future generations to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

At Inner City-Inner Child, we see the impact of early education every day, and are proud to provide these benefits of early childhood education to low-income families and children in DC. Our early-learning programs set children on the road to future success which, as this study demonstrates, has a ripple effect that lasts well beyond our classes. To learn more about our programs, click here.


For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.