No Small Matter

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(soothing piano music) - Welcome to our movie about early childhood education. Early childhood education is very important. There are many reasons for this. The first-- - [Narrator] All right, all right, enough of that. We'll take it from here. If we kept that up much longer, we totally would have lost you. And chances are, we wouldn't have gotten you back. The point is, beginnings matter. Like a basketball team that doesn't play defense the whole first quarter. (sportscaster shouts) Or an architect who says forget the blueprint, let's just start building. (building crashes) Or a standup comic who skips the setup and goes right to the punchline. - 28. (record needle scratches) (audience boos) (uplifting music) ...

(soothing piano music) - Welcome to our movie about early childhood education

Early childhood education is very important

There are many reasons for this

The first-- - [Narrator] All right, all right, enough of that

We'll take it from here

If we kept that up much longer, we totally would have lost you

And chances are, we wouldn't have gotten you back

The point is, beginnings matter

Like a basketball team that doesn't play defense the whole first quarter

(sportscaster shouts) Or an architect who says forget the blueprint, let's just start building

(building crashes) Or a standup comic who skips the setup and goes right to the punchline

- 28

(record needle scratches) (audience boos) (uplifting music) - [Narrator] But the place beginnings matter most in life is, well, life

(baby coos) - [Alison] Babies, in the beginnings of humanity, grew up in these very rich extended families

Not just mothers, but fathers, grandmothers, friends, cousins

And they were all there all the time with the children

So in that kind of context, in that kind of a village, caring for children, teaching them, just getting the work done that you need, they all take place at the same time

And of course, the world that we live in now is a very, very different world from that

(iPhone rings) (soothing music) - [Robert] Parents are increasingly having to raise kids on their own, and they are also having to do it while they have to work, in order to earn enough to even support a family at all

(soothing music) What people now have come to understand is that these early childhood years, for reasons of brain development, for reasons of personality development, are more important than anything else

The central problem is that our society has a diminished capacity to support parents in doing what society expects them and needs them to do

Why a society would do this is a bit of a mystery

(soothing music) - [Geoffrey] Here's an enemy that most folks don't even know we need to fight

These are our children, our families in this country

Ignoring this and just going on as if it's going to correct itself, that's a disaster for us as a society

(soothing music) - [Narrator] So welcome to our movie about early childhood education

If we do our job, by the time we're done, you'll view this baby, and the world, just a little bit differently

Because this isn't an expose, it's a wake up call

To start seeing early childhood for what it is

A grownup issue

A game changer

To start seeing it as no small matter

(baby laughs) (children chattering) - [Rachel] What do you think you do at your house if you can't get a diaper on a baby? - Move your arms and then wrap it around

- This is how you do it at your house? - No

- My name is Rachel Giannini, G-I-A-N-N-I-N-I

- [Interviewer] And do you have a title? Is your title? - I would be lead teacher

we are at Highland Park Community Nursery School and Daycare Center

And we are in the yellow room

Brianna told me how she learned how to change a diaper

How did you learn, Lucy? - My mom taught me

- Your mom taught you? How did your mom teach you? Today we are gonna start a unit about how we learn

Yes! They're starting to develop this idea that you have this computer inside of your head that you can't see, and it controls everything about you

And how do you know I have a brain? - 'Cause if you don't have a brain, your head would be flat

- And it would be like

- Kids this age are far more capable than you and I would ever give them credit for

So when you give them the materials, and you give them some knowledge, they're able to run with it

Okay, we are going to have a very important discussion

Number one

When do we start to learn? - I don't know

- [Rachel] Is it the first day of school? - No

- No! I would agree with that

- At playtime

- When do we start to learn? - Rug time

- Rug time? Let's take away school

Ayanna, what did you say? - The day I was born

- The day you were, what happened the day you were born? You started to do what? - I started playing

- You started playing

And when you play, you learn

Ayanna, that is exactly right

You started to learn the day you were born

(inspiring music) - Babies are born learning

There is a brain ready to learn

And it's ready to learn especially from other people

A social brain

Our work on imitation, I think, helps show that

I remember sitting in front of this 42 minute old baby, who had never seen a tongue before

I poked out my tongue at her

And she responded with tongue protrusion back

I opened and closed my mouth, she watched my lips move, and responded by opening and closing her mouth

This is a phenomenal thing

The baby had never seen her own face

But yet, she was able to connect her own body to my body

And it was a dramatic demonstration to me that we are born learning

- For some 2,000 years, people thought that babies and young children were sort of defective grownups

So they defined babies and young children in terms of all the things that they were missing

So they were irrational, they were egocentric, they couldn't understand the relationships between cause and effect, or take the perspective of another person

The picture was that there really wasn't very much that was going on until children got to be about the age that you went to school

If you're ready, up goes the curtain

(toy squeaks) About 35 years ago maybe, we started really changing our view

All right, great, so we're just gonna have her choose between the puppets now

All right, that was the helpful guy, wasn't it? One thing that happened is we got new technologies that actually let us study babies in new ways

Hi Rowan

- Hi

- That completely revolutionized our picture about what babies and young children were like

(toy squeaks) This is very very new

We're the first in the world to put a baby in a MEG machine

This is perfectly safe and non-invasive

It's like a stethoscope for the brain

- [Technician] We're just gonna slowly place him in the car seat, just like you would

I'm gonna plug him in on the side here

- [Patricia] MEG, magnetoencephalography, allows you to measure the firing of the neurons in the brain as a child is doing something like listening to a word

- [Technician] Two little monkeys high up in the trees

- [Patricia] Or interacting with mom

- Hi

(baby coos) What do you want? - Okay, as you can see, (baby coos) mom is talking to baby, and we're getting very, very good attention on the part of the infant

Let's look at right frontal

- For the first time in history, we can see what's happening in the baby's brain before they can talk back to us

(speaks foreign language) - What we found is that children learn more and learn earlier than anyone ever expected

Babies are doing something remarkable, without anybody knowing it's going on

The baby brain is actually taking statistics as they listen to us talk

They don't know words yet, but they can tell the frequency of the sounds

While you are talking to the baby, the baby's brain is reacting, trying to get ready to talk back to you

People have the tendency to think there's nothing going on up there

What's going on up there is rocket science

(bomb explodes) - [Narrator] In fact, the first three years of life are like a big bang for the brain, an explosion of 86 billion neurons connecting to each other over a million times a second as babies interact with the world and the people around them

These connections form pathways that wire together different parts of the brain

So many pathways that starting around age three, the brain hits the brakes and kicks into use it or lose it mode

- [Alison] There's this kind of inflection point where the connections that have been used a lot get to be stronger and stronger

And the connections that aren't used disappear, they're pruned, as people say

- And whether or not the connection is strengthened or dies back is experience-dependent, right, it's based on our experiences

So literally, our experiences shape our brains

- [Narrator] Our brains grow faster during the first five years of life than they ever will again

And the older we get, the harder it is to change what's there

- This is why this early period is so important

If you miss the right experiences, or if you disrupt those circuits, then you have some weakened foundation that your brain is gonna have to deal with for the rest of your life

- [Narrator] So what has the biggest impact on how well the brain gets wired? Us

(baby giggling) - Who is that? - [Narrator] It's not flashcards or fancy apps that build a healthy brain

It's everyday back and forth interactions with loving supportive adults

School is basically anywhere with anyone

- [Dad] Come on, let's show Natalie's favorite game

You got her legs? - Yeah

- Okay

- Social interaction is brain food for the child's healthy development

(mom laughs) - Hi baby

- [Andrew] These everyday moments with the child are actually learning moments for the child

(child shouts) (grandmother laughs) - The science has never been clearer

Babies' early experiences and the connections that they have with those important adults in their lives during this time of incredible brain development create the foundation for all that follows

- [Dad] Do you want to pet Koopa? Oh, is he giving you kisses? - So this really raises the stakes on what we provide for children in the earliest years of life

If we don't get that right, then from then on, we're basically fixing something that's broken

- [Toddler] A baby pumpkin! - Pick it up! - You can pick it up

- [Toddler] You help me

- [Narrator] The good new is, we know what kids need to thrive

The bad news, we're making it harder and harder for parents to give it to them

- [Announcer] This is the portrait of a very important bride

She is the wife and mother of America

Her job is to make a home

The American home

Today, it is perhaps the most important job in the world

- So we have all of this research from social scientists, from neuroscientists, telling us why it's so important to invest in young children from birth to five

At the same time, we have these old-fashioned notions around the role of women

Why should a baby be anywhere but with the mom until she's three or five? (bright music) - Families look very, very different than they did 30, 40, 50, 20 years ago

- Not that long ago, a high school diploma and a good attitude was enough to get you a job where one salary could support one family with a couple of kids

- Today, there are so many families where both parents have to work

Or if there's only one parent, that parent is working

- More women are in the workforce

More women are in the workforce that have children under the age of five

(bright music) - [Myra] The demands of work are radically different

The unpredictable work hours that families have to navigate, for example

- You may or may not live close to your family

And so that creates a challenge

- Parents need this support

This is not a luxury

- We pretend that it's Ozzy and Harriet days, and you know, there's someone who's taking care of the baby

Well, who's taking care of the baby? (birds chirping) - Hi big girl

Hi, hi! Hey


(baby babbles) Hey

I'm cooking

(baby babbles) I don't want to go back to work tomorrow

I should spend like $10 a day playing the lottery

So we strike it big

I'll start off with a million, what do you say? (laughs) Sending her to a daycare center was not something we wanted to do for at least a year

But we're in a home where both of us have to work in order to survive

We have to work

Do you see your daddy? It's not like there's a smorgasbord of childcare out there

We were lucky to find what we found

It was a scramble, like we were going to childcare facilities every day

The availability is slim to none

We really only have a few options, despite teacher ratio, despite class size, they all cost the same

Of course it's gonna require us to basically scale back some of our spending, and appropriate some of our savings

You want to hold this for me? (baby laughs) I don't know how people do it, I really don't

Let's go change you

Come on, you want a change? (baby cries) Sorry

So tomorrow, you have to go to school, okay? It'll all be okay, you're a big strong girl

No one's gonna love your child the way you do

Nobody's gonna care for your child the way you will

But I'm looking for the closest thing to it

(soothing music) (baby cries) Yeah, so sorry that I have to do this to you

(baby cries) It's so rough, you're just so not ready for this

I know you're not

(soothing music) All right, let's go

(soothing music) If I could stay at home, I'd stay at home in a heartbeat

(sighs) (soothing music) - There is no system of care and support for infants and toddlers in the United States

Instead, when you have a baby, it's like being born into the Wild West

You gotta fend for yourself and make it work

(eagle screams) - [Narrator] Every week, more than 11 million American children under the age of five spend over half their waking hours in the care of someone other than their parents

The cost of that care is soaring

In 28 states, it's now more expensive to put a baby in childcare than it is to send a kid to public college

But just 10% of the childcare in America is considered high quality

So you pretty much have no idea of what you're going to get once that door closes

- When I had my second son, I quickly began to realize that childcare was going to cost us $2,000 a month

That was the mortgage

- I have what I can imagine is a very good starting out first job, you know, after college, and I still cannot afford childcare

- I would either have to work to sustain childcare but I wouldn't be able to pay my other bills, or I would just have to you know, stay at home and not pay childcare to take care of my child, but then I'm not making any income

- But if you go for a subsidy, or you go to ask for money to help, they look at you funny, because they're like you make too much, you don't make enough to do that

So I'm stuck in that kind of middle class bracket

- I didn't have anywhere to go

I did not have any structural support

And I ended up having to move into a homeless shelter

- My son cried so much at that daycare within this woman's home that eventually I had to quit my job, because while I couldn't prove it, I knew something was wrong

And he was too young to articulate anything

As he got a little older he was able to tell me, mommy, she just yelled, she yelled and screamed a lot

- Kayley was not our first pregnancy

We actually miscarried with twins, and then miscarried again after that

So being able to have a viable live birth and child was even more, we wanted to take care of her even more so

I'm getting teary

Because of the fact that, you know, it took us that much to get her here that, sorry, I didn't know this was gonna happen

That putting her life in someone else's hands means so much

So from the beginning, knowing what I saw in childcare, I didn't want to put her there

So we just bounced her around, family member to family member until we made the decision for her dad to stay home

- This is not the way it's supposed to be

(patriotic music) - The notion of a fair start goes back to this moral obligation we have always felt, across political lines, across ideologies, this notion of everybody gets a chance to be successful, to live the American dream

And that is fundamentally not happening right now

Kids are not starting out in life with the same opportunity

(patriotic music) ? I'm a little acorn ? ? Lying on the cold, cold ground ? ? Everybody steps on me ? ? That is why I crack you see ? ? I'm nut ? ? I'm nut ? ? I'm nutty ? (soothing music) - [Mom] Okay here

Put some mix in here

Do more

- More? - [Shannon] 'Cause that won't make very many pancakes

Okay, put it in

Ooh, good job

Daymean is a very, very sweet little boy

Like, he cares more about others than he does himself

Is that nasty? - No, it's yummy

- When he was first born, he was in the NICU for the first 22 days of his life

- He had a hole in his heart, he had bleeding in his stomach, and he had something wrong with his lungs that they couldn't figure out

He's like my miracle child

(laughs) Literally my million dollar baby

His hospital bills was $975,000 before the doctors

- I'll flip it

- [Shannon] Good job

- Yay! - [Donnie] I normally work graveyard shift

- I work nine to seven

He's going in at three

So now we have to find a babysitter and try to get his car fixed at the same time

And then figure out how I'm gonna get home from work

- So I talked to Sergio about babysitting

He said his wife shouldn't have a problem with it

She babysits like three or four girls anyway at home

- I was a stay at home mom

And now Donnie's with him all day, and I'm with him all night

We couldn't afford to put him in preschool

Because it's expensive

- Yes

I'm gonna be walking around beating my head against a wall to stay awake

- Daymean

- Come on

We've got a lot to do this morning

- I don't wanna

- Daymean O'Neill

- Come on bud

- You guys are disturbing me

- If you don't eat, how are you gonna have the energy to play on the playground? - I already have the energy

- You're already driving daddy batty

- Daymean please eat

(child grunts) Hey, come here, Daymean, come here please

- I'm tired

- You don't wanna eat the pancakes that you flipped? - Okay, no park

- But I'm sleeping

- But you still gotta eat your breakfast, so you can go play at the park

'Cause mommy's gotta go to work in a few minutes

Don't you want to have breakfast with me? I'm going to count to three

And you're either gonna be at the table, or you're gonna go in your room and time out

One, what's your choice? Make the right choice


All right, go to your room

- No, no

- And you're not gonna come out until you learn how to listen

- No, no

- When you're ready to eat your breakfast you can come out

(Daymean cries) He's throwing stuff at the door

(door thuds) - Let me out! (parents laugh) - You better lose your attitude son

Are you done? - It's just you guys telling me what to do

- But that's what our job is

- What if I'm 10 years old

- Even if you're 10 years old

- What if I'm 51

- Then you can tell whoever else you want what to do

My hours are up and down all week

I'm going from graveyard, and I work two day shifts, two swing shifts, and then one grave shift

Minimum wage just isn't cutting paying the bills

- Pick a color

- Number 14

- I don't want my son to have the same struggles that I had

So we've gotta do the best we can for him

I'm thinking about taking on a second job so we can catch up

- Daddy, come on! - Ow

- Daddy, here

- [Shannon] I want him to be smart

Now he is smart, I just want him to reach his potential

- Parents are, were, will always be their child's first and best teacher, period

At the same time, higher income families choose to pay for their children to be in high quality early learning settings

They can afford to make that choice

- You gonna make it? - If we give everybody a shot, and things don't turn out right, to me, that's the American way, I can live with that

But you cannot tell me that for certain Americans, they're gonna have every advantage you can imagine, and they're gonna compete against these kids who have nothing, and we're gonna say, oh, which kid is probably gonna do better, and be surprised

- [Narrator] It's a vicious cycle

And studies show the deck is stacked from the start

By age three, children from higher income families have heard an average of 30 million more words than their low-income peers

By five, they've spent 1,300 more hours in places like libraries and museums

And their parents are spending thousands of dollars more on preschool and educational enrichment

All this extra stimulation has an impact on the developing brain

By the first day of kindergarten, higher income kids are already as much as two years ahead in language development

- So this is a gap of opportunity that really starts to turn into an academic and achievement gap

- [Narrator] A low-income fourth grader who's already behind in reading is 13 times more likely to drop out of high school

And kids who drop out of high school are 50% more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates, and eight times more likely to be incarcerated

- You can make an honest argument that keeping kids in school is grassroots crime prevention

We're in a $400 million state prison that will be opening within the next eight months to house 3,500 inmates, 40% of whom came through our door without a high school diploma

This is the most expensive and least effective way to address these issues

So for me, it's just really simple

True criminal justice reform is investing in early childhood education

(uplifting music) - Look, the most critical point in a kid's life is right now

It's right now if they're 12, it's right now

But I'm gonna tell you this

The investment you do in that young person, from the very beginning, gives you the best possibility of scaling this thing and being successful

Because in the end, this will pay off dividends for this country in a way that nothing else will

- [Narrator] Shay Gattis is about as close to living proof of that as you can get

Gattis is the executive director of the Flatbush YMCA in Brooklyn

He also happens to be one of the subjects of a landmark early learning study that's been tracking him for more than 40 years

The Abecedarian Project

Launched in 1972 by researchers in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the study was designed to examine the long-term impact of full-day, high quality early care and education on low-income children like Shay

- I started when I was three months old

I do have vivid memories, and I remember sort of games, puzzles, those kind of things

Which today, I can't stop playing with puzzles, to be quite honest

The puzzles was here

- [Narrator] Four and a half decades in, the results of the study are striking

As a group, Gattis and his former classmates are healthier, they are better educated, they make more money, and they're less likely to have committed a crime than a group of similar kids the study also tracked who didn't attend the program

- My mom, she had me when she was 15

So my grandparents raised me from birth

Neither one of them had a third grade education

Couldn't read or write

So from my own experience, here's a child that grew up with limited resources, but was able to attain a level playing field in the classroom

If I didn't have the Abecedarian program, probably wouldn't have had that chance

- We have a chance of ending intergenerational poverty

Today in this country, you're born into poverty, odds are you're gonna end up as an adult in poverty

High quality early childhood education has a strong possibility of breaking that cycle

- [Narrator] Abecedarian is one of several long term studies that show when it comes to children, the earlier we invest, the bigger the payoff for society

- Compared to all the things then we do for the rest of their life, we are writing checks that are so much more expensive than what it would have been had we invested when they were little

- You can put a dollar value on not having to retain a child

You can put a dollar value on the healthcare implications long-term

You can put a dollar value on not needing special ed, you can put a dollar value on the child graduating high school, getting a better job, and not paying taxes, and particularly, you can put dollar values on the cost of crime, which is huge

You won't find a better public return than investing in early childhood education

(upbeat electronic music) - Early brain infrastructure should be taken as seriously as other forms of infrastructure

As highways and bridges and airports, and those sorts of things

This is our workforce

This is about the future of our country, in a very real economic sense

- Our society's becoming increasingly technologically complex

In order to fill basic jobs, young adults need to have more skills than they've ever been required to have anytime in the past

- CEOs of big corporations, they need young employees that play well with others

They don't want just smart people

They really want people that have good emotional skills, good social judgment

And so we have to really attend to the development of these parts of the brain that allow us to play in the sandbox

(inspiring music) (children chattering) - Boys and girls, meet me on the rug, for solve that-- - Problem! - Let's roll

(children shriek) Let's get started

What problem are we gonna have? - A fight

- Okay, are you guys ready? - I'm not gonna play with you

(child laughs) - You can't be my friend anymore! - [Woman] I don't wanna be your friend! - All right, call on somebody

Our class has a game show called Solve that Problem

The kids know different kind of strategies to get themselves out of sticky situations, so that you're not always running to an adult

- You guys can tell each other sorry

And be nice to each other

And not say bad words to each other

- Miss Stone, I'm sorry, earlier I called you a bad name, and I took your toy

They're going to solve the problems in the class

And then if new problems arise, they'll learn those strategies


- We have a problem

- What happened? Come on Ayanna, let's solve it

- Carson just take the ship out of my hand

- Well she had two

- Carson took the ship out of your hand

Ayanna, he wants something she has

He said please can I have it

What should he say after

- Can I have it when you're done? - Can I have it when you're done, try that

- Can I have it when you're done? - Yes, in five minutes

- (gasps) Did we solve your problem? (cheers) We solved the problem! All right

- People think that to be ready for kindergarten, I have to know the alphabet, I need to be able to count to 20 and above

When you ask teachers what does it mean to be ready for kindergarten, they will often tell you I'd rather have a child who comes to my classroom able to regulate his or her emotions, who's able to handle transitions, who can pay attention and listen, who can get along with others

These skills are what we call executive function skills

- Executive function includes things like impulse control, and it includes attention, and it includes planning, it includes memory

All those things that we think about as learning to learn skills

These are the most important skills, when you're thinking about school readiness

You can't teach a child how to read if they can't focus their attention on what you're asking them to read

- [Rachel] Way to go, John, look at your S, good job

- [Narrator] Executive function skills aren't something we're born with

We have to learn them, and what lets us learn them is the part of the brain right behind our eyes, the prefrontal cortex

The job of the prefrontal cortex is to manage the signals coming from the rest of the brain

- We refer to it as the little air traffic controller in the brain

And that's because an air traffic controller has to manage multiple airplanes that are landing on multiple runways with exquisite timing, and that is exactly what children are doing when they're interacting with other children, learning in a classroom

- [Narrator] The prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, which means executive function doesn't really even kick into gear until around age three

- And that's why it's so important to focus on these skills during their preschool years

Because it's during the first five years where you see the biggest growth in brain development

- [Narrator] You can see what a difference it makes when a surprise visitor shows up to meet the kids in the yellow room

- [Rachel] You ready to tell 'em? - Guess what

- What? - We have a guest coming in

- [Rachel] Miss Luna, you ready to come play? - I saw a baby

- You did? Come look! Let's go, mommy's right there

Hi guys! This is baby Sloan! - [Narrator] Look at how mature the big kids seem

They're following directions, they're sitting still

They're taking turns when they talk

That's executive function in action

- I'm gonna roll it to mommy

- [Narrator] Baby Sloan, not so much

(baby screams) - Executive function skills are better predictors, better than IQ, of not only school achievement, but how well they're gonna do later in life

It's hard for kids, because when they want something, they want it right away, and it's even hard for us as adults

But there are great strategies to help kids learn these skills

Cookie! - Hi

- What are you doing here? - Oh, well, me just thought you know, sauntering through, and me saw this cookie here

So me just gonna take a cookie

- Wait, no, no, no, no

Cookie, Cookie, we're in the middle of an interview, I'm doing a documentary film

- A documentary? - Yes, yes, yes, yes

- This documentary

- Oh yes

- With all the lights and all the people

- Yeah, so I'm-- - And the microphone

- Exactly

- Oh boy, that look delicious

- [Rosemarie] Oh no, you can't have the microphone either

- Okay, so me just gonna take a cookie and be on me way

- Cookie, wait, wait, I'm gonna make a deal with you

- Yeah, what? - If you control yourself

- Yeah

- All right, and let me finish this interview, then I'm gonna give you a whole plate of cookies

- Deal! - Yes, deal? - Deal, where me sign? - But you have to wait over there

Control yourself

And be patient

- Me can do this

- All right, good

- Me just wait a little longer and me get whole plate of cookies

- Then you get a whole plate of delicious cookies

- Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, me so excited! - All right, thank you! So, let's say you have a child who really, really wants something, like Cookie Monster really wants that cookie

There are techniques that we can teach children to help them shift their attention away from that desired item

A good example of a simple technique is a child just turning their back to the desired item

Sort of like out of sight, out of mind

(car horn honks) - Nothing to see here

No cookies here, no delicious chocolate chippy

- Or, play with another toy

Get involved in another exciting engaging activity

Another strategy is to sing to yourself

? Turn around bright eyes ? ? Every now and then ? ? Me get a little bit angry when they ? (mumbles) ? Turn around ? - Strategies like these help children pause and be thoughtful when they're making decisions, so they're not so impulsive, and more importantly, research is showing that these executive function skills have a huge impact on their school achievement

And also-- - Hi, sorry

You've done with you interview yet? - You know what Cookie, I think we're done

I think I got all the answers in

- Really? - Yeah

- So we can eat cookies? - It's your time to have the cookies

- Oh boy, oh boy, me did it! - A whole plate, a whole plate

Yes you did it, I'm so proud of you! - Cookie! (makes chewing sounds) (bright music) - Hi, we are inviting families to our parenting program

It's free, and it's for moms that have babies, they can attend the program with the babies

(speaks foreign language) - AVANCE is a two generation program that partners parent education about child development with early childhood education for little ones zero to three

(knocking on door) Almost 30% of people in Waco live in poverty

There are ZIP codes, and census tracts in Waco, where one in four children go hungry

(dog barks) - The one year old at that house

One years old

He doesn't know how to sit up

We were in shock with that kid

We were like wow, he's one and he can't say anything, he doesn't sit up, he doesn't walk

- [Jessica] You can work with children until you're blue in the face, but if the home environment is also not transformed, then that child's opportunities for success will be limited

- We have been seeing the impacts of early childhood adversity on health, on behavior, on life outcomes for a very, very, very long time

But what we now know is the mechanism

We know how early adversity leads to all of these different negative outcomes

And that is what we now understand to be toxic stress

(gently chiming music) - [Narrator] To understand toxic stress, we've gotta understand the stress response system itself

- The stress response system is this amazing evolutionary system that was designed to save our lives

The folks who did not evolve a stress response, they're gone, they got eaten

- [Narrator] So let's imagine you're a one year old in prehistoric times

You've just woken up from your nap, you're hungry, and your loincloth really needs changing

So you step outside the cave, and nobody's there

Instinctively, you know something's wrong

Without adults there to care for you, you're totally helpless

And that's when your stress response system kicks into gear

- [Nadine] Immediately, what happens is that our brain sends a signal to releases stress hormones

So we release adrenaline and cortisol, and these hormones activate a whole slew of changes in our brains and bodies

Our heart starts to pound, our pupils dilate, our airways open up

The brain tells you you're in a dangerous situation, you need to do whatever it takes to protect yourself

- [Narrator] So you do the one thing you can to tell the world you need help

(baby cries) And then mom, dad or grandma Grog comes along

Your stress response system powers down, and you know everything's gonna be okay

Fast forward 40,000 years

Stress is still a part of everyday life for babies and young children, even if some of the causes are a little bit different

(baby cries) (vacuum cleaner roars) (baby cries) The stress response evolved to switch on immediately in the face of a threat

- Now it's a pot lid on daddy's had

(baby cries) But it's the comforting presence of caring adults that teaches the brain to switch it off when the threat has passed

- We're just talking about being responsive

Just letting a child see that when she sends out a signal that she's distressed or scared, she can count on the fact that a caregiver is going to be there in some way to help address that situation

- [Narrator] But what if the stress in a young child's life never stops? Violence in the home or in the neighborhood, parental drug addiction, incarceration, or mental health problems, severe neglect or abuse

And what if the adults around that child don't or can't help them cope with it? - [Nadine] When children are experiencing situations of fear and adversity, and they do not have that buffering caregiver, they continue to pump out high levels of adrenaline and cortisol

- And here's the problem, if that stress hormone stays elevated, it actually starts to disrupt the development of brain circuits

- And then we start to see the health problems that are associated with toxic stress

- [Narrator] Toxic stress takes direct aim at the prefrontal cortex, undermining a child's ability to concentrate, control their emotions, or get along with others

A biological problem that becomes a behavioral one when a child gets to school

- The brain basically goes on fight or flight mode

So when they walk into a classroom, they continue to respond as if they're in a stressful, dangerous, unpredictable environment

But to a teacher, that child looks like they're just misbehaving

That's a problem child

- When my kids show symptoms of toxic stress, they get suspended

I literally saw a patient in clinic two weeks ago who has been suspended 26 times from transitional kindergarten

The child is five years old

- [Narrator] But the damage from toxic stress goes beyond the developing brain

- [Deborah] There are also effects on metabolism, on the immune system, on the cardiovascular system, with profound consequences for physical health and mental health

- When those markers are set in childhood, they impact the way our bodies work for the rest of our lives

Heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Experiencing high doses of early adversity doubles your risk for seven out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the United States of America

That's nuts

(somber music) - [Narrator] Kids growing up in low-income families are especially vulnerable to toxic stress

Today, that's nearly half the children under six in America

- So when I think about toxic stress, I think about how it cascades down

The electricity bill can't be paid, your lights go out, you can't put things on the table

Everybody's unhappy

After awhile, adults are relating in certain ways that aren't healthy

Children are relating in certain ways that aren't healthy

You're living in a community that's doing things that's not healthy

And all of it begins to have a cumulative impact on a five year old

- So this actually argues for why we shouldn't be thinking just about the children

Because children live in families

We cannot transform the lives of children if we don't transform the lives of their parents as well

(baby cries) - Part of helping families make that shift is helping them create a dream and a goal, and then think about what are the steps that I need to do in order to make that dream a reality

(somber music) - I was working in the chicken plants for like seven, eight years, working on the two plants

My first husband, he used to like be in jail a lot of times

And I'd be like taking care of my kids by myself

So that's why it's struggling me to go to both jobs

I was going to work at 12 midnight, get off at six, and then at six, go to house, pick up the babies, get them dressed for school, drop them at school, and then go to my second job at eight in the morning, get off at five, buy some fast food, take them to the bed, like around 6:30, seven almost

And they didn't like it, they want to be outside playing and having fun, and I was so exhausted, I couldn't do it

I work in a restaurant for like five years

When I was 13 years old

So I can

And then I was one day on the street

And then these girls were passing flyers

They told me no, there's a good program, AVANCE, that can help you out, if you want to finish GED

And they can take care of the baby for free

And they teach you how to be with the kids

So I was like, yes! This is my opportunity right there

- We're gonna talk about the brain

When you have your child in a stimulating environment, his brain is gonna grow

How can we exercise the brain? Singing to our children, reading to our children, talking to our children

- I'm a mom for four kids

And I thought I was the best mom

Like, I know how to take care of my kids

Nobody's gonna tell me what to do or how to do it, right? But no, I learned a lot of stuff from them

Like, I couldn't believe it

(speaks foreign language) And then my son, I see improvement out of him, because now he turns around when he hears the sounds

(baby laughs) I learned eating, I learned on the education

I learned that you have to at least hug them, 'cause they can know that you love them and you're there

So the teachers are like helping me a lot

(baby coos) (speaks foreign language) - Good morning

- [Maria] Goodbye Lorenzo

- What I love about AVANCE is the early childhood education is forward-thinking, we want our child to succeed in the future, but the ESL, GED classes and workforce development training is the here and now

So I'm gonna gain the skills that I need to lift my family out of poverty

- Good morning

- Good morning

- We are going to continue working on some math

And then we also want to continue working on some, some of your writing with your constructed responses

- Always in my dream, I want to be a CNA, a certified nurse assistant

I mean, you don't get paid a lot, but at least try to start somewhere

- This program changed my life

I learned English here

I have a better job

I can talk with my son's teacher in the school

- I learned to be a better mom

I learned to understand my children

And to be respectable to my kids

They help me to be as successful and dream again

- I learned if you believe it, you can have

All this I say, thank you teacher

But I don't have nothing to pay

All they do for me

Just I wish one day all the mothers like me have this opportunity

(students applaud) - We're gonna do it, we're all gonna finish, right? We're gonna be better, better, better moms

Bye Ms

Beth, bye Lucy! - Bye! - Bye guys! - Bye

- I'm gonna do it, 'cause I want them to see that I did it, so they can do it

Bye, (speaks foreign language) see you tomorrow

(soothing music) - My name's Mike Hall

And I flew fighters in the Air Force for nearly three decades, retired as a major general

- Well, I am retired Rear Admiral Casey Coane

- My name is Bob Besal, I spent 30 years in the United States Navy

And retired as a rear admiral

- People are a little surprised when someone from the military says you know, gee, we should be taking care of little ones

But we think the number one national security issue for this country is the readiness of our citizens to serve in society and in the military

- 71% nationwide of our 17 to 24 year old population is ineligible to join our military

They can't serve if they want to serve

And that's because primarily they're too poorly educated, they're not healthy, or they have a serious misdemeanor or felony criminal record that prevents them

- Which then begs the question, if you're not qualified for military service, what's your citizen readiness overall? - If they can't qualify to join the military, can they qualify to work for IBM or General Motors or somebody else, and the answer is, in many cases, is no

And so if America can't compete globally economically, then that's a national security issue

- We're looking to this next generation to be able to protect us and our national interests, just as we did for our parents and grandparents

- It's not just about my grandchild, in my case, it's about America's children

(dramatic music) (Marines shout) - [Narrator] When it comes to early childhood, the military doesn't just talk a good game

- The military actually has one of the best family support systems in the United States

In fact, I think it has the best family support system in the United States

- Come on, wake up

Come on

Let's get ready for school

- [Narrator] The Department of Defense provides or subsidizes high-quality early care and education for more than 75,000 military children

Including Ayanna from the yellow room

- You can count by 10s? (Ayanna murmurs) Let me hear you

- 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60

- As a military parent, we move a lot

(cellphone rings) - Hi daddy

- Hello, my love

- And there's a lot of anxiety when it comes to finding childcare, because you want to make sure that you're putting your child in the right place, where people are gonna take care of them and treat them nice

- Bye Emma

- Bye Emma

Bad Emma

I stumbled upon Highland Park Community

It actually was cheaper than where she came from, because it's subsidized by the military

And you can see that learning was going on

I was like, where do I sign? - [Rachel] What's going on in this picture? - That's little boy

- Ayanna's experience in the yellow room has been phenomenal

I know where she started, and I can see where she is now

And it's really night and day

- [Rachel] This one, do you know what letter this is? - B! - Let's do the alphabet

I'm gonna point right here, ready? - To just see that progression, like, when I went there, and they were like, she's gonna be journaling, and I'm like she, can't like, Ms

Giannini was like, no, all the parents say that, but I'll show you at the end of the year, you'll see

And everything that she told me has come to fruition

- You got it, and what's after the next one

- I knew, but it really felt good when Ayanna told me I love Ms


- Do you know who that is? - Dennis! - (shrieks) Yes it is, nice job! - Virtually every child care setting provided to military families is nationally accredited, meaning that it not only meets basic regulations for safety and health and numbers of children, but it actually rises to a much higher bar of quality

- And Emily, grab a clipboard, pretty please, grab your jackets, we're going outside

- [Narrator] But that commitment hasn't extended to the civilian world

(somber music) The US ranks near the bottom of the pack when it comes to public funding for zero to five

And out of all the money Americans spend on education, just 3% goes to early childhood

The result is that for too many families, high quality early learning, the kind that can fuel healthy brain development, close the achievement gap, teach executive function and fight the effects of toxic stress is simply out of reach

Unfortunately, it's not just any early learning environment that makes a difference for outcomes

It is high quality, we know that, we've seen it

We have evidence

- Here, come with me, guys

I found a really great spot where I think we're gonna be able to find a lot of really cool bugs

We're gonna try to find bugs

We're gonna find out what kind of bug-- - Bug! No, it was flying around

- Well, hold on

Our job is to find out what kind of bug it is

So we can bring it into the yellow room, and then guess what we'll do

- Show it

- We're gonna show it, you're totally right, Emily

We are gonna act as bug experts

- So what does teaching and instruction and learning look like in a high quality program? - [Child] What's this? - [Child] It looks like poop

- Well, I don't think it's poop, because it doesn't feel like poop

(gasps) grab a book, grab one of the books, Blake

- Why? - Because we can look it up

It might be an egg of some kind


- [Rhian] In a high quality program, you don't see little kids sitting at desks

You don't see a teacher in front of a room talking and talking and talking to a bunch of kids in the back of the room

- It's that! - Oh my! It's an egg! - What kind of egg? (talking over one another) - No, it's like a mantis egg

- It's a praying mantis egg! Oh my gosh! - Oh my God, we found a baby egg! - This is amazing! - You want to have a child who's in an environment where there's a lot of play and there's a lot of ability to explore

But you also need to have an adult there who's doing the scaffolding

- You know what, we can keep this in our class until it hatches

- Yay! - You see the teacher encouraging the children to explore and understand and learn from whatever it is they're doing

- I love that you noticed that it had lines around the egg

Really nice observation

- It's not just free play, but it looks a lot like play

Because everyone's having fun

- How to take care of an egg

All right, let's see what it says

What do you think it's gonna say? You have chickens, you know how to take care of eggs

- But not tarantula eggs

- You keep saying the word tarantula, I thought that we found that it was a different kind of egg

I thought it was a praying mantis egg

- Oh yeah

- Well, let's look at a picture

Maybe let's look at, we'll look at a tarantula egg

We'll look at a praying mantis egg

And we'll see which one it is

- We can measure things like teacher ratios, whether or not a teacher had a BA and the number of BAs in a classroom, those are all very important

What really makes a huge difference in the child's life is how the child and teacher, child and adult interact

- Okay, we can make this

And we just take care of it

So what happened today in our bug group? - We learned about hatching an egg

- Boys and girls

- A grasshopper egg

- No, it's not a grasshopper egg

We looked it up

What kind of egg is it? - A tarantula

- It's not a tarantula egg! Who knows what, what kind of egg is it? - I think these children will be lifelong learners


Giannini has planted a seed in them

They will always have a thirst for knowledge

- This is a praying mantis egg

And inside of it is a little amount of praying mantis, or a lot of praying mantis? - A lot

- A lot

- One of the things that early care and education providers fight against constantly is the idea that they are just babysitting

- People talk about like, oh, what do you do, just play with kids all day, like oh, you just babysit

And it's like, no

Do we tell you what I do all day, you know

- The whole notion of babysitting is antiquated

It's not babysitting, it's brain building

- [Deborah] Early childhood educators are scientists

They're emotional supporters

They are family advocates

- They're an educator, they're a healthcare provider

- They're also a party planner, because you have to keep children busy and occupied and engaged

And you have to keep 20 of them

You know, I often tell people to think about their child's two year old birthday

But it doesn't end after a couple of hours

And they all come back the next day

And the next day

(children talking indistinctly) - They are doing the work that will really fundamentally make a difference for the outcomes of these young children

- I want to be their Miss Honey

I want to be the one that's like, you can do anything, like this is possible, like when they reflect on their preschool experience, I want them to have this weird memory of this person that may or may not have existed that let them do things that they don't quite remember, but they remember it being really cool

And it's weird to think that I'm not gonna have that impact anymore

(phone rings) HB Jones, this is Rachel, how can I help you? It's all of us, all of us had second jobs last year

All of us

Early childhood teachers make like under 30 grand a year

- Oh yeah, early childhood

- Yes, and as a preschool teacher, I basically make nothing, so I have a second job

This is what life is like

You work two jobs

- [Man] Yeah early childhood, you don't get paid hardly anything

- Yeah, but you should, 'cause it's the most important time

We have to supplement our incomes

Because we choose to teach here

Like, I'm not gonna lie, I've been here two extra years

Because I make excuses

I like it here

- Today we have higher expectations than we've ever had of what childcare teachers can and should accomplish

But we are placing those expectations on the back of a workforce that is earning poverty-level wages

In this country, the typical childcare teacher's wages fall below those of the people who take care of our dogs, who park our cars, who make our drinks

Childcare teachers earn in the bottom three to 5% of the national wage scale

They've been at the bottom for the past 25 years

And they haven't budged

It's not only unfair, from an economic point of view, it's downright stupid

- This is where it starts

This is where their futures start

Their personalities, a lot of who they are, their character is developed within the first five years

And the appreciation, we're like, like, how they view preschool teachers is like, is like you don't matter

What letter are we learning this week, do you remember? F, can you show me F? Make the F sound

Today we're gonna make a train

And I'm gonna go (makes train sounds) all around this rug, and if you can tell me a word that starts with F, you can join the train

Are you ready? Charlotte

- Foot

- Foot, join my train, girl

I can't move out of my parents' house

I can't have my own financial stability because I just don't get paid enough

It just kind of devalues I think preschool teachers a lot

And then it devalues the profession

It devalues the time that these kids have here

I don't know

It's been difficult, and, it makes me angry

(children chattering) (soothing music) - Ready, you got your tools? Let's go

Pop the hood

(soothing music) That's called a hood bumper

(child chatters) - If there's one core message about development, it's that it is cumulative

And even though it gets harder to change brain structures, harder to change behavior as children grow up, the door is always open

- What else do we need to check? - It's the investment from adults, that very distinctively human combination of caring for children and teaching them at the same time, just in our everyday activity, that really and literally makes us human

- [Donnie] Push

Daddy'll hold it, just keep turning

- And I think everybody, when it comes to their children, has this feeling that this is the most important thing in the world, what could possibly be more important? - That means that it doesn't need to be fixed

- It doesn't need to be replaced

- It doesn't need to be replaced

Excuse me, Mr


- [Daymean] Mr


(soothing music) (children chattering) - The hard part is to get people to realize that that's not just true about my children, it's true about your children and the children of the people down the block and the children of the people who don't look like us, or aren't in the same part of the city, or aren't in the same part of the state, or for that matter, aren't in the same part of the world

(man grunts) (man laughs) (soothing music) - [Child] I did it! - Hello

- Hello! (soothing music) - Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen

Welcome to the Yellow Room Expert Expo

(parents cheer) Before we do awards, I just want to say I've called Community home for five years

I'm leaving the land of teaching

I am going back to grad school to finish my masters, so

- Yay

- Yeah, right! High five for that, man! Way to go Shea! All right, thank you so much

And I'm glad you cut me off, 'cause I'd cry

All right, Grace, come on up

- Every time I hear somebody talk about, you know, they're worried about the future of America

They're worried about where we're gonna be 25 years from now, in terms of you know, our workforce, and then they're not really interested in investing in early childhood

You want to slap your forehead, like what are you thinking

How are we going to get there? All of that foundation for all the things we want to see in society is laid in those earliest years

- Ayanna, my great lunch buddy that loves to sit next to me at lunch time

No matter what we're talking about, she's always got an answer to help solve the problem

So she is voted best problem solver

(Rachel cheers) - We have a deeper understanding now of how important these early years are, and why

And once you know that, you can't just put that out of your mind and walk away

- Do you want to help mommy? Can you get an onion? You might need two hands

You want to peel them all? All right, hold onto that

- The challenge that we have is that people will go we can't afford this stuff, it's gonna cost too much money

What people fail to ask is how much are we paying as a society because we are not putting those investments in up front

- We need leaders in Washington, we need leaders in every community to step up and say, no, this first, this is our priority

Every child should have access to high quality early education

- Welcome to the 2015 graduation from the AVANCE parent-child education program

(audience applauds) - If we get it wrong at the very basic level, we have missed an enormous opportunity

At the more egregious level, we have failed young children and failed their families, and failed to follow through on the promise of the American dream

- Maria Hernandez and Lorenzo Galvan

(audience applauds) - If we get this right, our country will look dramatically different

- Look, early learning is not a panacea to fix everything in society

But what it can do is deeply powerful

- [Child] Come on, little praying mantis

(children laugh) - We are on the precipice of such an amazing time

We're unlocking the secrets of the brain

First time in history, we never had a way to look into a baby's brain before

There are ways to build environments to optimize the way in which people grow

That's what we call a rich environment for children

Whatever we want to call it

Childcare, preschool, home

We have to do it everywhere

- [Narrator] Imagine a basketball team that plays lockdown defense the whole first quarter

Or an architect whose detailed plans make construction smooth sailing

Or a standup comic who flawlessly sets up the perfect punchline

- 28

(audience laughs) - [Narrator] Now, imagine an America where every child starts off on the right foot

What would that look like? (inspiring music) (soothing music) (uplifting music) (microphone squeals)

Audio and subtitles


  • English


  • Spanish
  • English

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