Several years ago, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, was asked about “the myth of the first three years” of child development.

“If you ask me is it a myth that … the first three years determines everything that happens afterward … ? … That’s a myth,” Shonkoff said. “If you ask me whether … brain development is proceeding in a very rapid clip and that experiences … affect that development … in a very big and important way in the first three years? … That’s science. It’s absolutely true.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation defines early childhood as the period from a child’s birth to his or her eighth birthday. This period is the foundation for later learning and development. That makes it also the ideal point at which to interrupt the generational cycle of poverty that might otherwise doom future generations to the vulnerability of their parents when they were children.

The questions then become, how can those early experiences be optimized? How can at-risk kids experience the environmental, nutritional, cognitive, social, physical and emotional conditions that enable them to develop to their full potential? With this publication, we seek to share the insights and wisdom of people with firsthand knowledge of those questions.

This publication also continues the practice we inaugurated in 2010, of inviting other voices – grantees, experts, community members and others – to weigh in on issues central to the foundation’s mission. Along with our newly redesigned website at and soon-to-be-launched blog, we hope to use these forums to cast some light on and even inspire thinking about who knows what about removing barriers to the success of all children, especially our most vulnerable.

Joanne K. Krell
vice president for communications