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Early Childhood Development


(links to source documents are in the postings below)

1. New! Epigenetics and and Child Development - Harvard Center for the Developing Child
2. New!  5 Facts About Motivation That Are Often Misunderstood - Harvard Center on the Developing Child
3. Learning Domains - Head Start/ECKLC
4. Screening and Risk for Developmental Delays - Child Trends

5. “Promote Access to Early, Regular, and Comprehensive Screening” - CLASP

6. State Strategies to Support Developmental Screenings in Early Childhood Setting - CLASP
7. A Compendium of Developmental Screeners Birth to Age 5 - U.S DHHS
8. Implementing Developmental Screenings and Referrals in Physician Offices - The Commonwealth Fund

9. Early Learning Foundations: Infants and Toddlers Family Activity Book - State of Delaware

10. The Validity of the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Head Start Children 
11. Foundation for Child Development













February 22, 2019

New scientific research shows that environmental influences can actually affect whether and how genes are expressed. In fact, scientists have discovered that early experiences can determine how genes are turned on and off and even whether some are expressed at all. Thus, the old ideas that genes are “set in stone” or that they alone determine development have been disproven. Nature vs. Nurture is no longer a debate—it’s nearly always both!

During development, the DNA that makes up our genes accumulates chemical marks that determine how much or little of the genes is expressed. This collection of chemical marks is known as the “epigenome.” The different experiences children have rearrange those chemical marks. This explains why genetically identical twins can exhibit different behaviors, skills, health, and achievement.

Correcting Popular Misrepresentations of Science

Until recently, the influences of genes were thought to be set, and the effects of children’s experiences and environments on brain architecture and long-term physical and mental health outcomes remained a mystery. That lack of understanding led to several misleading conclusions about the degree to which negative and positive environmental factors and experiences can affect the developing fetus and young child. The following misconceptions are particularly important to set straight.

  • Contrary to popular belief, the genes inherited from one’s parents do not set a child’s future development in stone.

  • Variations in DNA sequences between individuals certainly influence the way in which genes are expressed and how the proteins encoded by those genes will function. But that is only part of the story—the environment in which one develops, before and soon after birth, provides powerful experiences that chemically modify certain genes which, in turn, define how much and when they are expressed. Thus, while genetic factors exert potent influences, environmental factors have the ability to alter the genes that were inherited.

  • Although frequently misunderstood, adverse fetal and early childhood experiences can—and do—lead to physical and chemical changes in the brain that can last a lifetime.

  • Injurious experiences, such as malnutrition, exposure to chemical toxins or drugs, and toxic stress before birth or in early childhood are not “forgotten,” but rather are built into the architecture of the developing brain through the epigenome. The “biological memories” associated with these epigenetic changes can affect multiple organ systems and increase the risk not only for poor physical and mental health outcomes but also for impairments in future learning capacity and behavior.

  • Despite some marketing claims to the contrary, the ability of so-called enrichment programs to enhance otherwise healthy brain development is not known.
    While parents and policymakers might hope that playing Mozart recordings to newborns will produce epigenetic changes that enhance cognitive development, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that such exposure will shape the epigenome or enhance brain function.

  • What research has shown is that specific epigenetic modifications do occur in brain cells as cognitive skills like learning and memory develop, and that repeated activation of brain circuits dedicated to learning and memory through interaction with the environment, such as reciprocal “serve and return” interaction with adults, facilitates these positive epigenetic modifications. We also know that sound maternal and fetal nutrition, combined with positive social-emotional support of children through their family and community environments, will reduce the likelihood of negative epigenetic modifications that increase the risk of later physical and mental health impairments.

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Epigenetics and Child Development:  How Children's Experiences Affect Their Genes (Harvard)
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5 Facts About Motivation That Are Often Misunderstood






January 23, 2019

1.  Motivation comes from a set of neurochemical networks that develop over time, as a result of the experiences we have.

Despite the common misperception that some people just naturally have or lack motivation, science shows that the nature of caregiving relationships and opportunities for safe exploration that we provide young children affect the development of these systems—for better or for worse.

2.  The best way to sustain motivation is to support internal drivers with the right kind of external feedback.

Carrots (rewards) and sticks (punishments) are not the only ways to motivate people. Systems focused solely on external rewards and punishments are unlikely to achieve sustained, productive motivation; those that balance intrinsically motivating activities—such as creative problem-solving and playful learning—with positive feedback are more likely to support healthy motivation over the long run.

3.  Addictions divert motivation systems and require more than willpower to overcome.

Addictions chemically hijack the basic biological systems that have evolved for optimal survival. Addiction does not reflect a simple lack of conscious effort or a “failure of character;” managing addictions requires blocking these chemical diversions below the conscious level.

4.  Motivation is complicated and has many influences.

Behavior is affected by the experiences and conditions that shape a mindset that goal achievement is possible—and, critically, by having the resources, time, skills, and supports that make successful action feasible. It is incorrect to say that if anyone wants something badly enough, he or she will find a way to do it.

5.  Providing a predictable reward is not enough to sustain motivation over time.

Experiences that are exactly as expected every time lose their novelty, and eventually elicit less neural activity in the dopamine system. When we experience a reward that is better than predicted, the brain will prefer that experience in the future; if the reward is less than expected, the brain will ultimately exhibit less motivation toward that experience. So “keeping things fresh,” whether through new activities, different locations, or a different reward, is good advice for sustaining motivation.

Motivation Harvard Center for Developing

Early Learning Domains (Head Start/ECLKC)


Head Start and Early Head Start programs are required to provide high-quality early education and child development services. These services promote all children's cognitive, social, and emotional growth for later success in school. Education managers and other professional development staff can use the resource sets below to help teachers and caregivers enhance children's learning across the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework domains.

Each resource set includes an emphasis on:

  • Nurturing and responsive practices, interactions, and environments that foster trust and emotional security

  • Communication and language-rich conversations

  • Promoting critical thinking and problem-solving

  • Social, emotional, behavioral, and language development

  • Supportive feedback for learning

  • Motivating for continued effort

  • Supporting all children's engagement in learning experiences and activities

Explore resources that promote a deep dive into teaching practices across the five domains of early learning. These include video presentations, background materials, and handouts. Professional development providers and managers may use these resources to support workshops for teachers and caregivers.

Approaches to Learning

Explore teaching practices that promote infants', toddlers', and preschoolers' independence, curiosity, and self-management.

Social and Emotional Development

Identify ways teachers and caregivers can enhance social interactions among children and adults. Discover ways to positively respond to challenging behaviors.

Language and Literacy

Promote children's emerging abilities in language and literacy development. Help teachers and caregivers enhance the communication abilities of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.


Through exploration and discovery, young children build their own thinking and processing abilities. Find strategies that parents, teachers, and other adults can use to support cognitive development.

Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development

Explore resources that address young children's development of perception, gross and fine motor skills, and health, safety, and nutrition. Program leaders share specific approaches to enhance all four areas of development.

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Screening and Risk for Developmental Delays 
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Child Trends analyzed the risk levels for developmental delays in four categories:

  1. Gender

  2. Race/Ethnicity

  3. Economic Status

  4. Parent Education Level

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Developmental Delay Risk by Parent Educa

“Promote Access to Early, Regular, and

Comprehensive Screening”

Christine Johnson-Staub, CLASP, February 2012

Synopsis performed by Scot Felderman


The following is taken from “Promote Access to Early, Regular, and Comprehensive Screening” by Christine Johnson-Staub, CLASP, February 2012.  The article provides a succinct summary of what should be considered in choosing and implementing early developmental assessments building on existing policies and programs.  The link to the full article is provided below.   

The Importance of Early Developmental Assessments:

The focus of the article is to, “Promote access to early, regular, and comprehensive screening—make early and regular health, mental health, and developmental screenings and related services available at recommended ages for vulnerable infants and toddlers through connections with all infant and toddler providers and caregivers.”

“Parent reported data from the National Survey on Early Childhood Health indicates that among the families surveyed, 57 percent of children aged 10 to 35 months had ever received developmental screening by their primary care provider.”

Standards for Defining Developmental Screenings:

“For the purposes of this recommendation, the definition of screening is consistent with best practice in two existing two areas of policy – screening requirements as defined under:

  • Early Head Start policy and guidelines, and

  • The series and frequency of developmental and medical screenings mandated under Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) requirement.

“Medicaid provides EPSDT guidance for screening that includes physical examinations, lab tests (e.g. lead screening), developmental questionnaires, hearing and vision, and child and family history. Typically these screenings are delivered by medical professionals during regular child well visits.”

“In early Head Start, Head Start Program Performance Standards specify that within 45 days of entry into the program, each child should be screened for ―developmental, sensory (visual and auditory), behavioral, motor, language, social, cognitive, perceptual, and emotional skills  using age and culturally appropriate tools.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, recommends that children undergo age-appropriate screening prenatally, at birth, within five days of birth, then at ages 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, 24 months and 30 months, 3 years, and annually thereafter.”

Implementation Recommendations: 

“It is important to note that expanding opportunities for screening must be combined with increased referral to and provision of treatment and services based on screening results. Early childhood programs can play an important role in supporting and coordinating children’s screening, and connecting them to appropriate interventions and health care services.”

“The success and long-term cognitive benefits of early intervention appear to be related to the level of intervention, comprehensiveness, and duration of the services, so identifying problems and connecting babies to treatment during their earliest years is most effective.”

“Recommended screening for healthy child development includes physical, dental, social-emotional, and other aspects of developmental health. For screening to be most effective, however, it must begin early, it must follow a regular ongoing schedule through early childhood, and it must use reliable, valid screening tools appropriate to the age, culture and language of the child. Screening is recommended to be early and frequent because that is the most effective way to connect babies to treatment in time to minimize the long-term effects of developmental delays and other problems, for children and their families.”

“Finally, to effectively catch early and emerging developmental problems, infants and toddlers should be screened using reliable tools to minimize errors and simplify the process.  Age appropriate screening tools exist in a variety of developmental areas, including general development, language and cognitive development, communication and language, motor skills, and autism.”

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State Strategies to Support Developmental Screenings in Early Childhood Settings 

One 2004 study found that only 57% of children 10 to 35 months old had ever received a developmental screening.

Even lower percentages of children received a screening with a tool including a parent-completed component.

A parent completed screening tool, like the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, increased referral for potential delays by 224% over using a tool relying solely on pediatrician response.

The National Center for Children in Poverty reported in 2012 that only 13 states met the recommended number of well-child visits in their Medicaid EPSDT policies for children under the age of one, and about half of all states met the recommendations for children 3 to 5 years.

In 2008, only 20 states reported that they completed the recommended screenings for 80% or more of the children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in Medicaid.

Many young children are regularly in the care of informal family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) caregivers. For these children, access to developmental screening may be a greater challenge. 

A Compendium of Developmental Screeners
Birth to Age 5 
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Early Developmental Screenings Compendiu

Developmental screening should begin early in a child’s life - be repeated throughout early childhood; and use reliable, valid screening tools appropriate to the age, culture, and language of the child. This compendium has been created to help practitioners better understand this information and make informed choices about the developmental screening tools they use with children birth to age five including:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaire

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaire—Social-Emotional

  • Battelle Developmental Inventory 

  • Bayley III 

  • Brigance Screens

  • Denver II

  • Developmental Assessment of Young Children

  • Early Screening Inventory

  • Early Screening Profiles

  • FirstSTEp Screening Test for Evaluating Preschoolers

  • Learning Accomplishment Profile—Diagnostic Screens

  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status

  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status

Implementing Developmental Screenings and
Referrals in Physician Offices 
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Implementing Developmental Screenings an

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) evaluated 17 pediatric practices in implementing the AAP's early screening recommendations including participant feedback on strengths or weaknesses. 

  • Most practices selected screening instruments that are completed by parents, rather than providers, citing concerns about slowing the flow of patients through the clinic.

  • Monthly screenings increased from 68% to 86% of children at recommended screening visits.

  • Many clinics found it more difficult to screen during busy periods and times of staff turnover.

  • 14% of all children screened had a failed screen, suggesting risk for developmental delay. 

  • Overall, practices reported referring only 61% of children with failed screens to a specialist for follow-up care. Many practices struggled to track referrals; practices that did track them found many families did not follow through with recommended referrals.

Early Learning Foundations: Infants and Toddlers

Family Activity Book

The following guidelines were excerpted from “Delaware Early Learning Foundations:  Infants and Toddlers" to provide families with a clear understanding of developmental goals and supporting activities.

The full document can be found at here.  

1. Social Emotional Development

  • Self-Awareness: Express feelings, emotions, and needs in responsive environment

Example: Begin to develop independence

  • Self-Regulation:  Begin to develop calming and coping skills

Example: Develop self-control

  • Attachments and Social Relationships:  Develop a trusting relationship with a caring adult

Example: Responds to emotions of others

2.  Language and Literacy

  • Receptive Language:  Show interest in sounds

Example: Respond to communication of others

  • Expressive Language:  Initiate sounds, words, signs, facial expression and gestures

Example:  Engage in turn-taking back and forth exchanges leading to conversations

  • Emergent Literacy:  Show interest in rhymes, books, stories and songs

Example: Actively participate and show appreciation for book reading, sharing stories, and singing

  • Emergent Literacy:  Use and experiment with different writing materials

Example: Notice and show interest in signs and words in the classroom environment

3.  Discoveries

  • Sensory Awareness:  Use vision to respond to light and focus on such details as faces, movement and colors

Example: Use of all senses to learn about cultures and ways of doing things

  • Spatial Awareness:  Learning how their own bodies fit into spaces

Example: Learning how objects fit into a variety of spaces as they build, stack, fill and dump

  • Memory:  Focus on people in their immediate world

Example:  Realize that people and objects that have disappeared still remain in the infant’s memory

  • Cause and Effect:  Realize that a specific action is caused either through their own bodies or their own actions

Example: Use objects to get what they want

  • Attention and Persistence:  Notice and pay attention to objects and people of interest

Example: Choose to stay with an activity that interests them

  • Curiosity and Problem Solving:  Explore objects to see how they work, using trial and error to meet challenges

Example:  Make connections with people and use what they know about other situations to solve a problem

  • Play:  Play with hands

Example: Use props and people as they engage in make believe play and act out simple themes

4.  Physical Development and Health

  • Sensory:  Experience different sensory activities

Example: Organize and discriminate sensory experiences

  • Fine Motor:  Develop strength, small motor control, and coordination through daily activities

Example: Develop and use eye-hand coordination to perform a variety of tasks

  • Gross Motor:  Increase the strength, balance and coordination of their bodies

Example: Ability to coordinate their bodies to performing increasingly complex movements

  • Health Awareness and Practice: Engage in daily physical activity, both indoors and outdoors

Example: Experience and learn about healthy lifestyle practices

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Limitations of Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA)
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The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) is a social-emotional assessment widely used in early childhood educational programs to inform early identification and intervention efforts.However, its construct validity is not well-established in independent samples of children from low-income backgrounds.
We examined the construct validity of the teacher report of DECA using a series of confirmatory factor analyses, and the Rasch partial credit model in a large sample of culturally and linguistically diverse Head Start Children (N = 5,197). Findings provided some evidence for consistency in the factor structure for three Protective Factor subscales (Initiative, Self-Control, and Attachment); however, the factor structure for Behavior Concerns subscale was not replicated in our sample and demonstrated a poor fit to these data.
Findings indicate the 10 items of the published Behavior Concerns subscale did not comprise a unidimensional construct, but rather, were better represented by two factors (internalizing and externalizing behavior). The use of total Behavior Concern score as a screening tool to identify emotional and behavioral problems in diverse samples of preschool children from low-income backgrounds was not supported, especially for internalizing behavior.

Foundation for Child Development

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The Foundation for Child Development provides the evidence, analysis and recommendations needed to implement early childhood systems that work for all children.

We fill gaps in knowledge. We identify areas of child well-being and development where there is little to no research, and provide funding to fill those gaps and build new fields of knowledge.

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