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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development
out special needs. Successful action on this recommendation will require the long-term, collaborative investment of government, professional organizations, private philanthropy, and voluntary associations.
Recommendation 2 — School readiness initiatives should be judged not only on the basis of their effectiveness in improving the performance of the children they reach, but also on the extent to which they make progress in reducing the significant disparities that are observed at school entry in the skills of young children with differing backgrounds.
Recommendation 3 — Substantial new investments should be made to address the nation 's seriously inadequate capacity for addressing young children's mental health needs. Expanded opportunities for professional training, as recently called for by the Surgeon General, and incentives for individuals with pertinent expertise to work in settings with young children are essential first steps toward more effective screening, early detection, treatment, and ultimate prevention of serious childhood mental health problems.
Early Environments Matter and Nurturing Relationships Are Essential
The scientific evidence on the significant developmental impacts of early experiences, caregiving relationships, and environmental threats is incontrovertible. Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain's evolving circuitry to the child's capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning early in the prenatal period and extending throughout the early childhood years. The science of early development is also clear about the specific importance of parenting and of regular caregiving relationships more generally. The question today is not whether early experience matters, but rather how early experiences shape individual development and contribute to children's continued movement along positive pathways.
The long-standing debate about the importance of nature versus nurture, considered as independent influences, is overly simplistic and scientifically obsolete. Scientists have shifted their focus to take account of the fact that genetic and environmental influences work together in dynamic ways over the course of development. At any time, both are sources of human potential and growth as well as risk and dysfunction. Both genetically determined characteristics and those that are highly affected by experience are open to intervention. The most important questions now concern how environments influence the expression of genes and how genetic