During early childhood, the period from conception through age eight, children develop the cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. These skills develop in a simultaneous and inter-connected fashion, and the development at each point builds on the capacities developed earlier on.
Early childhood is the most significant developmental period of life. A baby in a stimulating, nurturing, and responsive environment, who is cuddled, cooed to and comforted, is more likely to fully develop cognitive, language, emotional and social skills, all of which are vital for success in school, in the community and subsequently in life. Neuroscience and child development research have provided clear evidence that the early childhood years starting at, and even before, conception provide the foundation for lifelong wellbeing and productivity. Quality pre-school environments with well-trained teachers then take children through the second phase of the early years and get them ready for success in school and beyond.
Children’s early experiences are determined largely by supportive family and community care practices, proper nutrition and health care, learning opportunities, access to quality basic services, and protection from risk. These, in turn are dependent on enabling policies and investments for young children and families. When countries put these enabling conditions in place, children’s development is supported in every domain, laying the foundations for school readiness.
Many young children in the CEE/CIS region are unable to reach their potential on account of the challenges of poverty and social exclusion. This region has:
• Exceedingly low rates of breastfeeding and high rates of micronutrient deficiencies and stunting
“Adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) translate into tremendous social and financial losses to the countries in the region in terms of low achievement and productivity, and an excessive prevalence of non-communicable diseases and mental health problems across the lifespan.
UNICEF sees the early childhood years as the best investment to make a difference for life and works to address both phases, very early childhood (0-3 years) and the preschool years (3-6) with country partners. Our vision is that all young children should have a healthy start in life, grow up with a nurturing and responsive caregiver/s in a stimulating and safe environment, have a high quality preschool experience before entering school, and transition seamlessly into a child-friendly school.
Our agenda for action promotes comprehensive support for all young children and their families, with enhanced support, as needed, for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Every single child has the right to support for comprehensive wellbeing and early education opportunities.
Last updated November 2013
Web debate, advocacy video, commentary on Lancet`s new series on Early Childhood Development (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre)
Bernard van Leer Foundation's Early Child Development