There are 24 million children under the age of six in the United States today. No Small Matter is a wake-up call for society as educators, teachers, neurologists, cutting-edge scientists, physicians, and psychologists lay out what the makers of this documentary call "the most overlooked, underestimated, and potentially game-changing issue in America today — the impact of high-quality early childhood experiences on everything from health to academic achievement to future earnings as an adult."
With a keen and accessible approach, the filmmakers show how the first few years of life are a kind of "big bang" for learning as 86 billion neurons in a child's brain snap into action at the rate of a million times per second. They point out that although flashcards and learning apps can accelerate learning, what really matters are the social interactions between children under three years old and loving, supportive adults.
This, then, raises a challenge for society. At the end of World War II, just 12% of American mothers with children under six worked outside the home; today that number is close to 65%. Many poor and middle-class families simply cannot afford high quality childcare; in 28 states childcare for an infant costs more than tuition at a public college. And with parents often working two jobs, the time they can interact with their children is limited.
As a result, children from these families can be as much as two years behind in their development compared to children from high income families. Those who struggle in school are more likely to drop out and get in trouble with the law. If we want to reform the criminal justice system, we should start by investing in early childhood education.
The film introduces us to a number of families struggling to provide care and education for their children. We also visit a day care center where the teachers focus on developing "executive function" in the children. They play a game to "solve that problem" in which they learn to handle their emotions, explore options, and discover solutions. We learn, however, that the teachers in this exciting program do not make enough money to support themselves and have to have second jobs.
"Beginnings matter," the narrator says in an early scene in this informative documentary. You will learn a lot you probably did not know as you listen to the experts and the regular people who have discovered the benefits of early childhood education. And you will realize that it's time society reallocated some of its resources to insure that all children get a good start for the sakes of themselves, their families, and the society at large. See the film's website for ideas on how you can help make this happen.