The importance of the early years

Written by Norah

Early childhood educator and resource developer.

August 10, 2021

The early years are crucial to child development and what happens in those years can be used to predict, to some extent, what will happen in that’s child’s future.

I had already intended sharing videos about early childhood development in this post, and still will. But when my sister told me about this Ted Talk by Molly Wright, a pretty amazing 7-year-old, I just knew I had to share it first. She does a great job of summing up the importance of the early years. I’m not going to summarise her talk for you as it’s only 7 ½ minutes long and I’m sure you will enjoy it more coming from Molly.

For me, the only thing she leaves out that I wish she had included is reading stories. Although it’s probably understood, I would like to have heard it mentioned.

Now back to my original plan of sharing two Ted Talk.

(Tip: I understand that watching talks can be time consuming. I find I can often follow them just as well, or better, when I watch them at increased speed. In case you don’t know, to do this is easy. Click on the Settings cogwheel, select Playback speed and choose the speed that suits you. I often try 1.75 first and adjust down if necessary.)

The first talk is Lessons from the longest study on human development by Helen Pearson.

In the video, Pearson reports on a scientific study conducted in Britain for a period of 70 years, collecting information about thousands of children. The study began in 1946 with a survey of mothers who gave birth in England, Scotland and Wales during one week — 14,000 babies. The study was repeated in 1958 and 1970, in the early 1990s and at the turn of the century. Over 70,000 children and five generations were involved. The scientists tracked the children every few years as they grew. They now have an enormous amount of data about a huge number of children and about which thousands of academic papers and books have been written.

The focus for Pearson in the video, is “about how to use science to do the best for our children.” She says the biggest message is “don’t be born into poverty or into disadvantage”. The study found that, if one was born into poverty and disadvantage, they were more likely to struggle throughout life, in school and at work, with physical and mental health and life expectancy. And, Pearson reports, the disadvantage begins early in life and continues into adulthood.

But not for everyone. Pearson says that not everyone born into disadvantage ends up in a difficult situation and that this study helps to explain why. Pearson says,

“In this study, children who had engaged, interested parents, ones who had ambition for their future, were more likely to escape from a difficult start. It seems that parents and what they do are really, really important, especially in the first few years of life.”

Doesn’t that sound very similar to what 7-year-old Molly Wright had to say?

The things Pearson lists as making a significant difference include:

  • talking and listening to a child
  • responding to them warmly
  • teaching them their letters and numbers,
  • taking them on trips and visits 
  • reading to them every day.

Pearson reinforces this by saying that “children whose parents were reading to them daily when they were five and then showing an interest in their education at the age of 10, were significantly less likely to be in poverty at the age of 30 than those whose parents weren’t doing those things.”

Another part of the study mentioned by Pearson looked at the connection between bedtime routines and behaviour. It was found that children with a regular bedtime routine were more likely to be better behaved than children whose patterns were irregular. Perhaps that’s not so surprising either. But what is pleasing, is that the study found that when children’s bedtimes became more regular and followed a routine, their behaviour improved. Add a book into the mix and it sounds like a recipe for success to me.

So, what is the message? Most of us know the benefits of all the things that both Molly Wright and Helen Pearson told us are important. Now the science confirms it too. And what I think is especially wonderful about Molly’s Wright’s video is that it is making a difference to new mums and through them, their children.

Molly’s talk was prepared as part of the Thrive by Five initiative of the Minderoo Foundation, a program which aims to increase access to early childhood education. It has been shown in maternity wards across Australia and beyond and has had close to 2 million views already. That’s a lot of lives that have been changed and which will impact positively upon our world in many and varied ways.

However, now for a slightly different point of view, I share this video by Yuko Munakata.

Munakata tells us that parents matter, but that the ways in which they matter is complex and difficult to predict. She says, “For anyone who has ever been a parent, stop blaming yourself, as if you are in control of your child’s path. You have influence, but you don’t have control. For anyone who has ever been a child, stop blaming your parents.”

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes about parents and children. It comes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

“And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

This brings me to a final recommendation of Munakata, with which I totally agree, that we should enjoy each precious moment we have with our children for their future is uncertain and not in our control, all we have is now.

How perfect — enjoy every precious moment with your precious children.

Until next time — Norah

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  1. restlessjo

    Oh, goodness, Norah! You have me starting the day in tears. Go Molly! I have an 8 year old ‘not grandson’ who could probably do a similar job. The sad thing is that these things need to be stated. Surely everyone plays with their kids, and if they don’t the results are not good? It’s self evident, isn’t it? I don’t need science to tell me that. But I can always listen to the words of Gibran. If only more people thought like that. The hardest part for me is the letting go and watching them fly free.

    • Norah

      Hi Jo, Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with you that the sad thing is that some parents need to be told. We see evidence of the need when children come to school with delayed learning and language. We, the ones who know and our children and their children, are the fortunate ones. I’m pleased you enjoy Gibran’s words too. I thought letting go would be difficult, but as they grew to adulthood, it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. I love seeing them be successfully independent in the lives they choose to live. Gibran’s words certainly help me with that.

  2. Ritu

    Powerful stuff, Norah!
    I love Molly’s Ted Talk.
    The advice here, is simple. Common sense, wouldn’t you think? Yet I have actually come across a parent who looked baffled when we suggested they ‘talk’ to their child. The response? “What? We have to talk to them?”
    Where is the hope of play and story, where a parent doesn’t even know that communication is key to everything?

    • Norah

      The unfortunate thing with common sense, Ritu, is that it isn’t common enough. I know that you, as a teacher, will see the effects of that far too often in children who enter our schools without the experiences described. It’s difficult to catch them up on those lost opportunities. But we try.

      • Ritu

        We do indeed try, Norah. That’s what we are here for. ????

      • Norah

        Exactly! ????

  3. beth

    i love every word of this norah, and this is one of the best posts on early childhood i’ve ever read. i’d like to share it in it’s entirety with my fellow faculty and admins with your permission.

    • Norah

      Thank you, Beth. Of course you may. ????

      • beth


  4. Jennie

    These TED talks are spot on! Thank you, Norah. Of course they seem common sense to us, yet parents need to hear this over and over again. Super post!

    • Norah

      That’s so true, Jennie. I don’t think there can be too many reminders. If one new parents hears each time, the world is changing for the better.

      • Jennie

        Hear, hear!

  5. T. Marie Bertineau

    Beautiful expressions by both Gibran and Munakata. Thank you.

    • Norah

      I’m pleased you enjoyed them. 🙂

  6. Jules

    I’ll have to try another way to see Molly’s Ted Talk. As it isn’t working for me.
    Since I was ‘trained’ as a child educator I have always seen how important parent and children interactions are.

    I give extra kudos to parents with differently-abled children. Especially when those parents have been given negative advice. Every child has the right to loving parents. But occasionally as the study suggested some people have no choice but to learn from adversity.

    Thank you for another ‘educational’ post ????

    • Norah

      I do hope you can get to see Molly’s talk, Jules. I’m sure you will enjoy it. It’s especially meaningful to us as educators, I think, because we know the importance of the message.
      I support what you say about parents of differently-abled children. Some of those children are blessed with especially loving parents.
      Many of us learn what not to do as much as what to do from what we have experienced. Adversity may be a good teacher, but it’s generally not the most effective.

  7. Jennie

    I want to add, I agree with your comment that you wished Molly had talked about reading books. That would have been a perfect 10.

    • Norah

      Definitely. I guess we can’t expect a seven-year old to remember everything, but I was surprised it wasn’t included. I’m certain her parents would have read to her.

      • Jennie


  8. Charli Mills

    Molly is adorable — so very childlike — and yet immensely wise, understanding the power of parental interaction. And even though Helen Pearson advises us not to be born in poverty or disadvantage, she does note the advantage of parent and child engagement. I’m not sure I connected as much with Munakata’s message but I understand her points. Early Childhood Education is important but it seems more important coming directly from parents, those first forged relationships. The demonstration of the distracted dad was eye-opening.I remember my SIL and I trying to have long-distance phone calls together and the children playing on their own until the moms got on the phone. Puppies, by the way, are similar! Thank you for an engaging column, Norah.

    • Norah

      Molly is adorable and I think the message is refreshing coming from her, but is especially powerful with the demonstation of parent and child engagement. Who would have thought a child should tell us adults what they need. I’m sure the child in every one of us would agree with her.
      I didn’t find Munakata’s talk quite as engaging either, but I felt it fair to offer a slightly differ point of view. It is through hearing different opinions that we can forge our own – break new territory or strengthen already-held beliefs.
      I know what you say about children and parents on the phone. That’s sure to create a cacophony! 🙂

  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    What a spot on post, Buddy.
    I used to see parents who came to this country to make a better life for their kids but then had to work so hard so much that they couldn’t give them the gift of time and interaction. Then again I saw parents who could afford the time but focused on working for more stuff and paid someone else to interact with their children.
    Love the Gibran!

    • Norah

      There are all types, D. It’s what makes the world an interesting place.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post, and Gibran.

  10. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    So agree with you about the early years, Norah. I thought Yuko Munakata’s talk was a bit weird. She seems to think parenting is one way, something that’s done to kids, and doesn’t seem to acknowledge it’s about a relationship and being responsive to the child, learning from them and adapting to their specific needs. (Thanks for the tip about speeding it up. I wouldn’t have watched it otherwise!)

    • Norah

      I agree, Anne. I didn’t find Munakata’s talk as inspiring and wasn’t sure of her main points, but I found some of her statements worthy of thought, especially when they bring me back to Gibran’s words.
      I find I can watch more videos when I speed them up and am disappointed when I can’t do that as I feel most contain a lot of ‘filler’.

  11. robertawrites235681907

    This is a very informative and interesting post, Norah. Thanks for sharing.

    • Norah

      Thanks, Robbie. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

  12. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    An excellent post Norah and thanks Charli for hosting.. I was lucky to have too much older sisters who were there when I was learning to read and they too played their part in my routine and story telling. Siblings can have a positive influence too, most of the time, unless they are unhappy at school. But hopefully younger children with older brother’s and sisters are excited by the prospect.. I cannot imagine how my life would have unfolded without the ability to read and write and horrifying that they estimate that approximately 47% of 16 year olds in the UK leave school functionally illiterate and that there are 5.1 adults with very poor literacy. That makes life so hard.. and is not a statistic to be proud of. I will share on Monday in the blogger daily.. have a good weekend.. Sally

    • Norah

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response and for sharing your experiences, Sally. Much older sisters would be a lovely support. I’m pleased they assisted your journey into literacy. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the ability to read and write either. So much of life depends on the ability. As you say, those poor statistics are nothing to be proud of.
      Thank you for sharing. I’m behind this week but will get over soon to see. ????????????

  13. Liz Gauffreau

    When you think about it, what our children want from us is so simple and costs us so litte: in addition to love, our time, attention, and respect.

    • Norah

      That’s so true, Liz – priceless!

  14. dgkaye

    I saw this brilliant child earlier today on another blog. It’s fabulous! Back to basics! <

    • Norah

      It is a brilliant talk, isn’t it?

      • dgkaye

        Absolutely! 🙂

  15. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Wonderful stuff here, Norah. I enjoyed the read. ??

    • Norah

      Thanks, Colleen.

  16. OIKOS™- Art, Books & more

    Thank you for this very important post, Norah! I enjoyed the read, and also Molly’s introduction. Gosh, what new politicans will coming up. Lol Best wishes, Michael

    • Norah

      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing on your blog, Michael. I think we have a great new generation of wonderful people coming up through the ranks. It’s great. We need them.

      • OIKOS™- Art, Books & more

        Thats for sure wonderful. Thank you for the information, Norah! That it serves a good future is mainly thanks to your work in teaching! xx Michael

      • Norah

        Those are kind words, Michael, thank you. We all make what contribution we can to improving the world around us, don’t we?

      • OIKOS™- Art, Books & more

        ???? Thank you for this, Norah! Its wonderful to get this information. Have a beautiful weekend! xx Michael

      • Norah

        You have a wonderful weekend too, Michael. Thank you.


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