The importance of early learning - from Lifting Our Game report

The Lifting Our Game report by Professor Deborah Brennan and Susan Pascoe AM, is endorsed by every state and territory government and describes why the early years are crucial for child development and societal well-being:

Educators have understood the importance of the early years for well over a century. In the past two decades, neuroscience has introduced powerful new evidence, helping us to understand why the early years are so important in establishing the underlying skills and behaviours that are essential to a child’s lifelong learning, behaviour and health.

A child’s environment and experiences in his or her early years set key pathways for life. Children’s learning commences long before they enter school – children are born ready to learn. 

Each stage of brain development is cumulative8  and, as a consequence, children can enter school with clear differences in the cognitive and noncognitive skills needed for school success.9 These differences predict later academic achievements 10 and, once patterns are established, they become more difficult and expensive to change.11

A child’s brain develops rapidly in the early years, with around 85 to 90 per cent of brain development occurring in the first five years of life.12 A child’s environment, experiences and relationships in the first 1,000 days (from conception to age two) are particularly significant for brain development.13 During the early years, children develop key skills required for positive learning and life outcomes, such as skills to solve problems, think, communicate, control their emotions and form relationships.14

In particular, self-regulation skills enable children to control their behaviour, emotion and thinking 15 so that they can focus attention, be enthusiastic learners, persist in completing tasks and work in teams as well as independently. A key period in the development of self-regulation is between the ages of 3-5 as children expand their social world outside the family. Focussed interventions during this period support their healthy development.16

Social and emotional skills are critical to enable children to thrive in the future economy. While it is difficult to predict the jobs that children will undertake in the future, it is clear that the nature of work is changing with increased automation and global interconnectedness. The Foundation for Young Australians predicts that in 2030, workers will spend 100 per cent more time solving problems, 77 per cent more time using science and maths skills and 17 per cent more time using verbal communication and interpersonal skills.17 In order to thrive in the workplaces of the future, today’s children will need to develop high level cognitive and emotional skills, as well as the ability to deploy these skills in an enterprising way. They will need to be active problem solvers and communicators of ideas, with an appetite for ongoing learning.18

Early childhood education helps children to develop these key skills, in an environment that focuses specifically on them as children, bringing together their present and future needs. Collaboration between parents, communities and early childhood professionals ensures optimal opportunities are available for enhancing children’s development in this formative stage of life.19

The early years provide a key window of opportunity to support children to develop the foundations of cognitive, creative, emotional, literacy and language skills that they will need for future success in education, work and life.20

Early years science, technology, engineering and mathematics education builds upon the child’s natural curiosity and sense of enquiry about the world, promotes positive experiences in science, mathematics and technology, and lays strong foundations in critical skills.21

Importance of childhood

Children are not just future, productive members of an economy. While the focus of this Review has been on the impacts of early childhood on future outcomes, it is vital to consider children as they are today, with rights to their own unique childhood.

The child must be at the centre of early childhood services and policy.

By design, quality early childhood education and care services are focused on nurturing children in an environment in which the children are agents of their own learning. This recognises and celebrates what it means to be a child. Educators work with and plan for the child who is, rather than the adult to come. Acknowledging and prioritising the unique strengths and capabilities of each child gives them the gift of becoming themselves.

Learning takes place in a social context where learning to make friends is as important as knowledge. By acknowledging the importance and uniqueness of childhood, the Review seeks to position quality early childhood education as relevant and appropriate for children now, and for establishing the foundations for success in later schooling and life.

The Lifting Our Game report will be tabled and discussed at the next COAG meeting in 2018.

Download the full report here


8) Winter, P. (2010). Engaging families in the early childhood development story. Neuroscience and early childhood development: Summary of selected literature and key messages for parenting. A national project conducted on behalf of the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs. Retrieved from

9) Harrison, L. J., Goldfeld, S., Metcalfe, E., & Moore, T. (2012).Raver, C. C. & Knitzer, J. (2002). Ready to enter: what research tells policymakers about strategies to promote social and emotional school readiness among three- and four-year-old children. Promoting the Emotional Well-Being of Children and Families Policy Paper No. 3. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University. Retrieved from and Murray, E., & Harrison L. J. (2011). The influence of being ready to learn on children’s early school literacy and numeracy achievement. Educational Psychology 31(5),529–545.

10) Bowes, J., Harrison L., Sweller, N., Taylor, A., & Neilsen-Hewett, C. (2009). From child care to school: Influences on children’s adjustment and achievement in the year before school and the first year of school. Findings from the Child Care Choices Longitudinal Extension Study. NSW Department of Community Services. Retrieved from and Halfon, N., Shulman, E., & Hochstein, M. (2001). Brain development in early childhood. In N. Halfon, E. Shulman & Hochstein (Eds.). Building community systems for young children (pp. 1-28). Los Angeles, California: UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. Retrieved from

11) Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2014). A Decade of Science Informing Policy: The Story of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Retrieved from:

12) Commonwealth Government. (2017, April 28). Your child and neuroscience: Learning potential. Retrieved from

13) Moore, T.G., Arefadib, N., Deery, A., Keyes, M., & West, S. (2017). The first thousand days: An evidence paper – summary. Parkville, Victoria: Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Retrieved from

14) Britto, P. R. (2017). Early moments matter for every child. New York, NY: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Retrieved from

15) Winter, P. (2010). see (8)

16) Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2011). Building the brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How early experiences shape the development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from and Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2012). Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning (in Brief). Retrieved from Brief - Executive Function Skills and Learning

17) The Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work order. FYA’s New Work Order report series. Sydney, Australia: The Foundation for Young Australians. Retrieved from

18) The Foundation for Young Australians. (2017).

19) Early Learning: Everyone Benefits. (2017). p.31.

20) Raver, C. C. & Knitzer, J. (2002) and Winter, P. (2010).

21) Victoria University. (2017). Early Learning in STEM. Multimodal learning in the 21st century. Project Report. Research commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training under the Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot program initiative. Melbourne: College of Education, Victoria University. Retrieved from and Education Council. (2015). National STEM School Education Strategy: A comprehensive plan for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in Australia. Retrieved from