Early Years Matter

What Are the Early Years?

The term “early years” is often used to describe the period in a person’s life between birth and age 5. Early years services include child care and family support programmes. The early years are frequently an area of focus for educators, researchers, policy makers, service planners, and advocacy groups because of the large amount of learning and development that occurs during this time.

According to research, over 90% of a person’s brain development occurs by the age of 5 (McCain, 2020).

Human Brain Development Graph looking at Neural Connections for Different Functions Develop Sequentially showing peak development in Sensory Pathways (vision, Hearing) and language during the first year and High Cognitive Functioning peaking between 1 and 3 years of age.

Source: (Center on the Developing Child, 2007)

Accessible Image Description: A graph titles, Human Brain and Development which shows age in years on the bottom axis. The graph has 3 lines indicating the development of neural connections. A yellow line shows that sensory pathways (i.e., vision, hearing) develop rapidly in-utero and from birth to 12 months. A blue line shows that language develops rapidly in-utero and from birth to 12 months. A red line shows that higher cognitive functioning develops more gradually over the first 5 years and then slows down through middle childhood and adolescence. 

The first few years of a child’s life establish “either a sturdy or fragile foundation for all for the learning, health, and behaviour that follow” (Centre on the Developing Child, 2007).  Like the foundation of a house, the early years are the foundation of a person that supports everything that gets built on top, such as academic achievement, social skills, health and wellness, and employment success (McClure et al., 2017; UNICEF, 2019). It is much easier to build a strong house on top of a strong foundation.

Early Years infographic explained below

Accessible Image Description: The foundation of a house-shaped structure reads "The Early Years". Inside the house reads "lifelong learning and critical thinking, coping skills and resilience building, high-quality learning environments, and caring, responsive relationships". Arrows point up toward the roof of the house indicating that these benefits support the roof of the house. The roof of the house reads "social skills, academic achievement, employment success, and physical and mental health".

 Why Do Children's Early Years Matter?

According to existing research, the first few years of a child’s life not only lay the foundations for a successful, healthy path to adulthood for the child, they also have meaningful implications for parents, local communities, the economy, and society as a whole. Cleveland and Krashinsky (1998) state that when examining the benefits of child care, both the benefits to the child in terms of development and the benefits to parents must both be included as it is a complex issue.

 Did you know?
  • The early years is a critical period for developing resilience. Resilience is a key component of mental health and wellbeing, allowing us to cope with and "bounce back" from ups and downs in life (Masten & Coatsowrth, 1998; Werner & Smith, 2001).
  • “In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second” (Center on the Developing Child, 2007).
  • The early years is the most crucial period of learning for "soft skills" such as communication, collaboration, and self-management (UNICEF, 2019). 
  • Canadian cost-benefit analyses indicate that for every dollar spent on early childhood education, the benefits range from $1.49 to $2.78 (Alexander & Ignjatovic, 2013).
  • Access to child care allows parents to return to work and increases family income while decreasing the need for social assistance programmes (Oxfam Canada, 2019).
  • Access to child care promotes gender equality by supporting women and gender diverse parents’ participation in the workforce (Oxfam Canada, 2019).
  • Supporting and investing in the Early Years leads to a healthy, successful society with benefits for everyone, including a more productive workforce, a boosted economy, less strain on social services and higher graduation rates (Fairholm, 2011; Fairholm, 2012).

 The New Brunswick Child Care Review Task Force (2016) outlines that “high-quality early learning and child care that is well-designed, implemented and monitored, supports:

  • optimal child development;
  • inclusion of children with additional needs;
  • social inclusion of cultural minority groups;
  • gender equality;
  • women’s and families’ participation in the labour force;
  • job creation;
  • poverty reduction;
  • reduced need for social assistance;
  • higher fertility rates; and
  • a more vibrant economy”

UNICEF (2019) states that high-quality child care programmes provide children with strong foundations that lead to “stronger social skills, larger vocabularies, better number sense, and curiosity to learn more”. They also help children develop resiliency, and strategies to handle trauma, stress, and conflict (UNICEF, 2019). Reaching IN...Reaching OUTᴼᴹ (RIRO) defines resilience as “the ability to "bounce back" from life's inevitable pressures and hard times. It helps us handle stress, overcome childhood disadvantage, recover from trauma and reach out to others and opportunities so we can grow and learn” (Masten & Coatsowrth, 1998; Werner & Smith, 2001).

 Learn More About Resilience

According to RIRO, when resiliency is developed, people “have happier relationships and are less prone to depression, more successful in school and jobs, and even live healthier and longer lives”. RIRO states that children from birth to 8 years of age are capable of learning and practicing resiliency. RIRO identifies 3 “R’s” of resilience:

  1. Relax
  2. Reflect
  3. Respond

Additionally, RIRO discusses 7 key abilities associated with resilience:

  1. “Being in charge of our emotions;
  2. Controlling our impulses;
  3. Analyzing the cause of problems;
  4. Empathizing with others;
  5. Believing in our competence;
  6. Maintaining realistic optimism;
  7. Reaching out to others and opportunities”.


Learn more about RIRO

Why Do the Early Years Matter to You? 

Children are not the only recipients of the impact that the early years have. When the early years are valued and supported, there are benefits for everyone.

When parents have access to child care for their children, there are multiple benefits for the family, the employer, and society as a whole. Parents are able to return to work – especially women – which allows families to bring in more income (New Brunswick Child Care Review Task Force, 2016). Additionally, research shows that parents who experience difficulty accessing stable, high-quality child care are often forced to reduce work hours or quit their jobs (Fairholm, 2011; Fairholm, 2012).  Parents are also shown to be more motivated, focused, and productive employees when they are confident their children are in high-quality child care (Fairholm, 2011; Fairholm, 2012). As a result, employers save money by not having to recruit, rehire, and train new staff, or cover absences. Employers will also experience a boost in revenue due to a higher volume and quality of work by employees.

Society as a whole experiences a boost to the economy due to job creation, increased tax revenue from working parents, reduced need for social assistance due to increased standard of living for families, more revenue from sales taxes due to increased spending by families, higher birth rates leading to more tax payers in the future, and a stronger workforce of the future leading to higher productivity, higher incomes, and increased tax revenue (Fairholm, 2011; Fairholm, 2012). 

Children’s early years don’t just have the potential to strengthen the economy and workforce of the future, but the current workforce and economy as well. 

Canadian cost-benefit analyses indicate that for every dollar spent on early childhood education, the benefits range from $1.49 to $2.78 (Alexander & Ignjatovic, 2013).

Powell et al. (2019) state that there are four key ways that investments in early childhood benefit the economy:

  1. multiplier effect to dollars spent in ECE;
  2. increased female workforce participation;
  3. increased parental earnings;
  4. increased employee productivity.

UNICEF (2019) agrees, stating that high-quality child care “facilitates the upward mobility of two generations . . . enhancing labour force productivity and reducing the social costs of crime and health care”. 

The Promise of Investing in Young Children

Optimal brain development requires a stimulating environment, adequate nutrients and social interactions with attentive caregivers. Evidence from multiple disciplines has confirmed that investing in early childhood development is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve educational achievement and to increase skills, capabilities and productivity. Based on this research and an enhanced understanding of the complete well-being of the child, early childhood development is increasingly included as part of the agenda for children's rights. Ensuring the sound cognitive, social and emotional development of young children merits the highest priority in seeking to raise healthy children worldwide.

Get Involved
  • Spread the word about why the early years are so important, and why people should care! Use the hashtag #EarlyYearsMatter on social media to share this message with everyone.
  • Follow @wellingtncounty on Twitter and like the County of Wellington Facebook page to learn more and to stay up to date on the #EarlyYearsMatter campaign. Feel free to tweet us or leave a comment with any questions or thoughts you have!
  • Engage in conversation with friends, family, colleagues, and others to help them understand why they should care about children’s early years, even if they don’t have children.

Explore Early Years Programmes and Services in Wellington County

UNICEF (2019) states that high-quality child care helps teach young children important skills for the job market later in life, such as “collaboration, critical thinking, communication, negotiation, resilience, creativity and motivation”. These skills are rooted in the first few years of a child’s life, through experiences such as responsive, caring relationships and healthy socialization. 

Find Licensed Child Care

EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer safe and welcoming environments open to all families with young children where they can make connections, find support and advice about parenting and child development and access resources and a network of community supports and specialized services. 

Find an EarlyON Centre

Visit Growing Great Generations where you can find information about programmes and resources related to the early years, child development, children with disabilities and special needs, parenting and other community supports.

Visit Growing Great Generations 


Alexander, C., & Ignjatovic, D. (2013). Early childhood education has widespread and long lasting benefits. TD economics.

Center on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development (InBrief).  https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-science-of-early-childhood-development/

Cleveland, G., & Krashinsky, M. (1998, March). The Benefits and Costs of Good Child Care: The economic rationale for public investment in young children - a policy study. https://www.childcarecanada.org/publications/other-publications/98/11/benefits-and-costs-good-child-care-economic-rationale-public

Fairholm, R. (2011, June) Economic Impacts of Early Learning and Care. [Powerpoint Presentation]. The Centre of Spatial Economics. 

Fairholm, R. (2012, March) Economic Impact Analysis of Early Learning and Care for Ontario. [Powerpoint Presentation]. The Centre of Spatial Economics.

Masten, A.S. & Coatsworth, J.D (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American Psychologist, 53 (2), 205–220

McCain, Hon. M.N. (2020). Early Years Study 4: Thriving Kids, Thriving Society. Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation Inc. https://earlyyearsstudy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/EYS4-Report_01_15_2020.pdf

McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

New Brunswick Child Care Review Task Force. (2016). Valuing Children, Families, and Childcare. Province of New Brunswick, p. 48.  https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/ed/pdf/ELCC/ValuingChildrenFamiliesAndChildcare.pdf  

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). How does learning happen? Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years. Toronto https://files.ontario.ca/edu-how-does-learning-happen-en-2021-03-23.pdf

Oxfam Canada (2019). Who Cares? Why Canada needs a public child care system. https://www.oxfam.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/who-cares-report-WEB_EN.pdf

Powell, A., Thomason, S., & Jacobs, K. (2019). Investing in Early Care and Education: The Economic Benefits for California. UC Berkeley Labor Center. http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/pdf/2019/Investing-in-Early-Care-and-Education.pdf

UNICEF. (2019). A World Ready to Learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/media/51746/file

Werner, E. & Smith, R (2001). Journeys from Childhood to Midlife: Risk, Resilience, and Recovery. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

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