The First Three Years Are Golden and Essential Years For Avoiding Jail

The first three years of life are the years that put children on the path to learning

The relationship between minority status and being imprisoned is clear. So is the link between not being able to read and going to jail.

Sixty percent of our prisoners — from all groups — either read poorly or cannot read at all. More than 85 percent of the children in the juvenile justice system in this country either read poorly or cannot read at all. The pathway to reading was set for each child in the first three years of life.

We used to think education began at kindergarten.

We could not have been more wrong. Education begins at birth.

Parents and family are the first teachers for almost every single child. Early year day care settings are hugely important to the learning process for each child.

The teaching that happens in those very first year family and day care settings has a massive impact on the educational future for each child. The reasons are purely biological.

The first three years of life for each child are when the neurons connect in each child’s brain. The biology is identical for every child and every brain. Children who have their brains exercised in those key years have much stronger brains. The children whose brains are exercised in those key months and years have larger vocabularies, learn to read more easily, and are much less likely to drop out of school.

The pathways for learning start very early and the differences between the pathways can be clear very quickly. Learning gaps don’t begin at school. School is too late to have a major impact on those gaps. The first three years are when the pathways are set for each child. New studies tell us that there are significant and measurable differences between children that can be seen clearly at only three years old.

We all know about the major reading gaps between groups of children in many of our schools that are evident by the third grade. We all know that those third grade reading-gaps tend to continue through all of the years of schooling for each child. Many very well intentioned programs that have tried to repair and reduce those gaps in the various school settings have had very low levels of success. We know now why so many of those programs have failed. They start too late. They don’t help the children in those first three years when the very highest levels of success are possible.

We all need to understand that reality. The first three years of life are the years that put children on the path to learning…and the path to learning is better if the children have their brain exercised in those first years..

It can be very difficult after that point to catch up. Reading gaps are measured after that point. In some schools, only half as many children from some groups have good reading skills in third grade and those numbers stay constant through all of the high school years.

Those reading gaps are often reported by race and ethnicity but they are not caused by the race or ethnicity of each child or by the income levels for the family of each child. Those learning gaps are created entirely by the differences in the brain exercise levels that happened for the first three years of brain development for each child.

The children who can’t read by third grade are 50 percent more likely to drop out of school and nearly 60 percent more likely to go to jail. Interestingly, in Great Britain 60 percent of the people in jail also either read poorly or can’t read at all. The patterns for who goes to jail are very similar in that country as well and the logistical realities that create that imprisonment pattern tend to be very similar from country to country.

The patterns here are very clear.

Hispanic Americans are three times more likely to go to jail than White Americans. Black Americans are six times more likely to go to jail then White Americans. African Americans who drop out of school are more than 30 times more likely to go to jail than White Americans who don’t drop out of school.

Read the book Three Key Years for the research, the science, the biology, and the key data about those first three years and the impact of those issues on the life of each child. That book is available in electronic form free from this web site. Please click here to read Three Key Years. It’s absolutely free.

Dropping out of school creates real problems in people’s lives.

More than 60 percent of African American males in their 30s who have dropped out of school are in jail today. The arrests are happening to adults, but the path that determined whether or not each of those imprisoned people were going to drop out of school started in a very major way for each person before the age of three.

We need to do the right things for all children. We have an ethical obligation to do that work. We should not fail any child, because every child we fail can be damaged for life. That can be a very long time. We should avoid that failure for each of those children.

To avoid that failure, we need a major focus on children three and younger. Brains develop in those first years. We know exactly how that process works. It isn’t a secret or a mystery. It is a science.

We should be deeply ashamed of ourselves both collectively and individually if we don’t do the right things for those very young children now that we know that science and know the relevant biology and know the painful and damaging lifetime consequences of not helping each child in those essential years.

That is a shame we should avoid.

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This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding