Early childhood, birth through grade three, is a time of rapid growth and development. Research has shown unequivocally that during these critical first years, young children go through a long period where play and hands-on experiences are vital to learning. This process is essential to later success in more complex tasks. Early learning seems so simple that it is tempting to devalue it as merely a child's recreation rather than recognize it as an extremely complex and absorbing effort to build a rich understanding of the world. Sight and sound, size and shape, must be experienced by a child through all the senses, at his or her own pace. Families, caregivers, and schools must be prepared to understand and support this critical stage of growth for the children in our charge. Our challenge is to be sure that programs and schools meet the special needs of very young children.