Documentary Review: ‘No Small Matter’

Greetings again from the darkness. Perpetuating the species is one goal, but improving the species … specifically, improving the possibilities for each child … is truly a worthwhile pursuit. The research is presented, and the film is co-directed by Danny Alpert, Greg Jacobs, and Jon Siskel (Gene’s son). We are told “Beginnings matter”, and then we are shown why and how.

Birth to age 5 is critical for what is called “the Learning Brain.” Unfortunately, in today’s society, fewer parents are spending a significant amount of time with their youngsters. We are told that in the U.S., 11 million kids under age 5 are spending greater than 50% of waking hours with someone other than their own parents. Daycares and pre-schools have become the most important link in the early brain development of these young kids. And because of that, the high income versus low income gap is creating vastly different results for the age group. Higher income tends to offer better options for early development, and statistics show these kids hear and learn more words, and visit more libraries and museums. We are informed that in 28 states, daycare costs are now greater than public college tuition.

Research and input is offered by Professors, researchers and children educators. We follow one particularly enthusiastic pre-school teacher who is clearly very talented, but due to low salary (she has a second job bartending), she decides to head back to graduate school. It turns out the challenges at this younger level are the same faced throughout the education system. Teachers are underpaid and overworked, and it’s the students who suffer. However, unlike older ages, this younger age group isn’t yet capable of taking on more learning opportunities on their own. They require assistance.

The Abecedarian Project in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the Avance group in Waco, Texas are highlighted as organizations working to provide assistance to those at risk of not being able to provide adequate early childhood learning opportunities. We also see the military’s approach of “Investing in Quality” so that the kids of military families have stimulating learning programs. Educators stress the importance of ‘executive function’ – the learned skill of kids being able to pay attention and cooperate in a classroom environment. It’s not all about reading and writing. The need goes deeper. The film does a nice job of presenting information most of us are aware of, in a way that makes the solutions clear and importance known. The idea of referring to this as ‘brain building’ rather than ‘babysitting’ makes a lot of sense. Not investing in our kids from day one means we are choosing perpetuation over than improvement.

Release date TBD.

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