DETROIT (WWJ) – In a special WWJ presentation, “Every Kid Matters: The Case for Early Childhood Investment” –– WWJ City Beat reporter Vickie Thomas takes a look at brain science and what we can do to help children learn in the earliest years of life.

Moriah Thomason, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics of the Wayne State University School of Medicine, says from a scientific standpoint, it’s more than just looking at the structure of the brain.

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“We are really considering interplay and action,” said Thomason. “This makes sense on an intuitive level – the brain is complex … so it’s exciting that we are moving beyond that single dimension to get a more complex organization.

“A big effort in my lab is even in utero mapping the development of functional developments while women are pregnant. I don’t think we can do any better than that, so that’s an exciting future research,” said Thomason.

Tim Bartik with the Upjohn Institute For Employment Research said the goal is to have children develop soft skills – the ability to get along – as early as possible.

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“If you develop them early on, before a kid enters kindergarten they get off to a better start in kindergarten, they learn more in kindergarten then they go off to first grade – so there is a process of cumulative causation that leads into adulthood, that’s what we are trying to do here. We are trying to say that although we can intervene later successfully, it’s much easier if you can get it right the first time,” said Bartik.

Bartik says we need to provide kids with an environment in which they can thrive — and studies show they are the ones who will be most successful later in life.

“The pre-school programs that have worked best are ones that have used certified teachers, paid good wages, so you don’t have huge turn-over. It’s only common sense that if you don’t have enough money per kid to pay the teachers enough – that they don’t constantly leave to off to teach kindergarten – you are going to have trouble running a good preschool,” said Bartik.

“How do we get the U.S. political system and the state political system to focus on the long-term – how do we get rid of the short-term mentality (in government) because early childhood is a long-term investment, yes, it has some short term payoffs, but only we are talking about the next generation. How do we get people thinking about planting trees rather than cutting them all down,” asked Bartik.

Bartik said it’s a matter of public pressure to make this happen for our children. “I think the public needs to demand that their representatives in different levels of government look at the long term – not just the short term.”

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