Why You Should Invest in Early Childhood Literacy

At Words Alive, we see first-hand the value of early education programs through our work with preschoolers, early elementary school-aged children, and their families in our Read Aloud and Family Literacy Programs. But what are the tangible and measurable long-term benefits to programs such as these?

While there is research showing that high-quality early education programs are valuable, especially for disadvantaged children, there wasn’t much research that analyzed the long term effects of these programs until recently. Nobel Laureate James Heckman and co-authors Jorge Luis Garcia, Duncan Ermini Leaf, and Maria Jose Prados have published a new paper, The Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, that answers this question.

The researchers analyzed two early education programs in North Carolina - the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education (CARE) - both of which work with children from eight weeks old to age five. The programs collected data on the participants on a whole range of factors, including health, quality of life, participation in crime, labor income, IQ and education, and the researchers continued to follow-up with participants through the age of 35.

Through doing this research, Heckman and his colleagues discovered the many ways in which these programs provide long-term benefits to both the participants and to the greater community. Some of the benefits that individual participants experienced compared to a control group were: more developed social and emotional skills (including self-control and the ability to monitor), increased education, reduced health care costs, reduced crime, greater earnings, and higher IQ. The children also had access to health screenings as part of the programs and were therefore more likely to be physically healthier.

“What is turning out from this body of research is that promoting engagement of children, their cognitive and non-cognitive skills, boosting their IQs, at the same time boosting their social engagement, their willingness to participate in society, monitoring their health from an early age, is having huge benefits downstream for the rest of their lives.”

In terms of benefits for the greater community, the researchers found that these early education programs not only benefited the children but also allowed their parents to live fuller, healthier lives. Especially in single-parent homes, access to quality childcare allows single parents to pursue work and education opportunities that might not have otherwise been possible.

In addition, when looking at larger societal issues such as crime rates, you can start to see how these early education programs have the potential to influence the greater society. Heckman argues that we tend to look at these problems and search for solutions in a very limited way, by “looking at one problem at a time and one solution very closely linked to that problem.” From Heckman’s research, we know that the children in these early education programs exhibit lower crime rates compared to their peers in the control group. As such, maybe programs such as these can start to be viewed as bigger picture solutions to these very specific issues affecting society.

There is no doubt that these high-quality early education programs are expensive. But Heckman argues that although the programs are costly up-front, when you consider all of the benefits that these programs provide and monetize those benefits, what you’re left with is a return of 13% per annum on the original up-front investment in the program. This is a huge return on investment.

At Words Alive, we like to say that when everyone can read, whole communities thrive. When you are investing in Words Alive and the programs that we offer, you are investing in the futures of the children participating in our programs and a future society that is healthier and more fulfilled. And as it turns out, investment in early childhood education programs, such as our Read Aloud and Family Literacy Programs, is one of the best investments you can make!

Read more about James Heckman and his research here: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/12/12/504867570/how-investing-in-preschool-beats-the-stock-market-hands-down