President Obama’s recent support concerning the importance of early childhood education and/or Head Start is at best a no-brainer. Advertisers have known for years, the sooner you reach a child’s brain, the easier it is to mold.

In other words, follow the money and one way or another you will learn that the earlier you stimulate the child’s brain (learning centers) the greater the learning potential and eventual intelligence.

For example, when three-years-olds were shown photos of different visual advertising icons, the overwhelming icon named was not some children’s book character but the McDonald’s logo, a.k.a. Ronald McDonald, the Golden Arches. This was also evident with the cartoon character Joe Camel of cigarette fame, until some perceptive physician and/or politician made the connection that children cannot discern fact from fiction.

The bottom line is that a child’s brain can be changed – it is called plasticity.

Furthermore, evidence of the importance of early brain stimulation can be supported by basic brain physiology.

The child’s first (brain) growth spurt occurs in utero or when his brain grows to about one pound. The second growth spurt occurs during the first year of infancy or when another pound is added. Thereafter, the brain will have an extended growth period, from age two to about age fourteen, when another pound is added.

The first two brain growth periods are critical to the child’s developing brain, indicating why nutrition and early stimulation (touching, bonding etc.) are so critical to the child’s developing brain. However, what separates us from other mammals, and gives us a last reprieve, is the third period, or when our mid brain (cognition/emotion) and executive brain develops.

It is this third period during which greater nerve density occurs among our billions of neurons. In short, the greater the density, the greater the  learning potential, intelligence and again a good reason for Head Start.

Studies have shown the positive impact for three and four year-old-children enrolled in Head Start on pre-reading, pre-writing, and vocabulary skills. Also discovered was that Head Start parents read more frequently to their children than those parents of children in a control group who were not enrolled in Head Start. In addition, at age three, Head Start children were shown to have larger vocabularies and higher social emotional development than children in comparable control groups.

Furthermore, an ongoing study was performed in California of more than 600 San Bernardino Head Start graduates.

According to a 2003 study, research found that social structures, as a whole, saved nearly $9 for every $1 invested in Head Start. Benefits included increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime, grade repetition, and special education services.

In addition, when a child receives early childhood education or Head Start, society is in effect stimulating the child’s cognitive/emotional brain (limbic system) or hippocampus. When children develop a positive connection (relationship) to learning and intelligence they are building a foundation for higher order thinking or the stimulation of executive brain centers. The executive brain center is associated with higher order thinking, which could have a positive effect on the high school drop out rate (45% to 55%) as well as juvenile delinquency.

Currently, to educate a high school student costs about $9,000 per year; to incarcerate a juvenile offender the cost is about $85,000 per year (JDI, 2009). As stated, Head Start is the perfect example of when a no brainer becomes a brainer.

Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students.  To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast or on his blog:Dr. David Sortino