The bedrock of a child’s physical and mental health, academic achievement, and future productivity in society is laid during their first five years. For that reason, early childhood development is recognised as a vital priority for governments around the world, highlighted by organisations including the OECD and the World Economic Forum.
But that level of attention on the field means a groundswell of research has emerged over the past few decades. It can be difficult to navigate the information that’s out there.
• For more like this, see our early childhood newsfeed.
So Apolitical has created a list of the 10 essential books and reports for anyone who wants to understand the current state of early childhood. We hope you’ll find it helpful. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below, or tell us them on Twitter.
From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts (2016)
Harvard University Center on the Developing Child
In this brilliant overview, several leading academics and policymakers summarise recent advances in the field of early childhood and brain development. The report succinctly explains the last 15 years of scientific developments, and then examines what we know from five decades of early childhood program evaluations, covering topics from the achievement gap in education to mental health.
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (2018)
Dr Nadine Burke Harris, paediatrician and founder of CYW San Francisco
One of the most influential voices in early childhood, Burke Harris’ groundbreaking book reveals how childhood stress leads to future health problems. Drawing from her personal experiences as a paediatrician, her work shows just how deeply our body can be imprinted for life due to things we experience as a young child. Packed with fascinating stories and important scientific insights, Burke Harris’ book then delves into the early childhood interventions which can disrupt this cycle.
Gun Violence Seen Through the Eyes of Children (2017)
John Woodrow Cox, Washington Post enterprise reporter
In this six-part journalism series, Woodrow Cox tells the stories of six children who’ve experienced gun violence around the United States. He spent hours with the children, reporting the impact on their lives through a number of interviews over several months. One remarkable story followed Carter Hill, who had been shot in the head at the age of just four, and was trying to return to normal life after severe trauma. The series is now being turned into a book.
Bite Size: Breaking down the challenge of inner-city childhood obesity (2018)
Guy’s and St Thomas’ (GSTT) Charity
Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges societies face, and its roots are found in the first few years of life. GSST charity’s new report is a great introduction to the issue. Most importantly, it highlights the “deprivation gap” in obesity: three in 10 kids in deprived areas in the UK are obese, compared to just one in 10 from least deprived places. Working with the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team, the wide-ranging report shows how a child’s environment drives their health outcomes, and what can be done in response.
Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods (2017)
In this report, planners and architects from the firm Arup argue in favour of a “child-friendly” approach to urban planning. As cities face up to problems like pollution, overcrowding and inequality, putting kids at the centre of planning can lead to solutions which are sustainable and effective. The report draws on useful examples from a number of different contexts, and recommends several actions which governments can take.
Nurturing Care for Early Childhood Development (2018)
WHO, UNICEF, World Bank
Three giant organisations have developed this evidence-based guide for anyone making policy relating to young children. They outline a number of actions which help to provide children with “nurturing care”, defined as promoting “health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving and opportunities for early learning”. Nurturing care is widely considered to be a core part of successful early childhood interventions.
Early Childhood Matters: Advances in early childhood development (2018)
Bernard van Leer Foundation
Reaching its twentieth year, Bernard van Leer’s annual report on early childhood provides an effective scan of recent policy developments and thinking in the field. It includes opinion pieces from world leaders and case studies examining effective policy innovations. In 2018’s edition, the emphasis is on how to scale the solutions we already have around the world.
Promising Approaches in Early Childhood Development: Early Childhood Development Interventions from Around the World (2017)
This report provides a succinct summary of a number of early childhood programs taking place worldwide — useful for the busy policymaker. With a focus on the developing world, the report summarises each case study on just one page. It includes a couple of cautionary tales from programs that didn’t go to plan.
Responding to Early Childhood Education and Care Needs of Children of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Europe and North America (2018)
Migration Policy Institute
Published in the wake of growing levels of migration and border controversies in the United States, the Migration Policy Institute’s report on caring for young children was well-timed. With extensive analysis from nine host countries, the report highlights the good and the bad in states’ responses to the education and care needs of preschool refugees.
Every Child Alive: The urgent need to end newborn deaths (2018)
Despite significant strides forward in public health over recent decades, the scale of infant mortality remains staggeringly high: each year, one million babies die on the day they’re born. This report from UNICEF is an important survey of infant mortality around the world, highlighting how much more needs to be done to tackle the problem — especially in parts of the developing world. Encouragingly, it also describes how many of these deaths can and have been prevented with the right policies in place. — Jack Graham
(Picture credit: Pexels/Helena Lopes)