No Small Matter

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
No Small Matter Movie Poster Image
Early education awareness docu offers insight, tips.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 74 minutes

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Positive Messages

High-quality early education is powerful: It creates healthier and happier adults, which creates a safer, higher-functioning society and a stronger economy. Themes include communication, curiosity, and empathy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A diverse group of people -- racially and economically -- advocate for high-quality early education. Professors, experts, preschool teachers, and parents all speak to the studies and their own experiences of the value of education.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that No Small Matter is a documentary about the importance of early childhood education. Using newly developed scientific technology, it argues that, when it comes to learning capacity, the baby years are the most crucial. While most of the focus is on preschool's role, the movie also explores the vital importance of parents and extended family and how they can set kids up for a successful life (it's not necessarily what you'd think). While this is an activist film, it's not partisan -- just the opposite, in fact: It shows that most U.S. voters, no matter their party, are in favor of increasing spending and resources on high-quality early childhood education. There's no iffy content, and Sesame Street's Cookie Monster shows up, but the material is aimed at parents and other adults.

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What's the story?

NO SMALL MATTER argues that many of the United States' top concerns might be solved by nurturing babies' brains. Studies show that high-quality early education makes a marked difference in society: It produces children who are healthier, happier, more able to contribute, and less likely to be incarcerated. In looking at how parental interaction, childcare, and preschool have far-reaching impacts, this documentary examines how the quality of care determines outcomes for individuals, families, communities, and the country.


Is it any good?

In a perfect world, this documentary would be shown in both delivery rooms and U.S. congressional swearing-in ceremonies. The information in No Small Matter about the importance of our interactions with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers goes well beyond what you think you know. Many parents have already felt the financial squeeze of finding daycare or preschool. But directors Danny Alpert, Greg Jacobs, and Jon Siskel argue that the cost is well justified for what the children -- and the United States -- ultimately get back from top-notch early education. Even really, really early education. The problem is that only 10% of all available care is considered high quality. And the film explains that "quality of care" means more than just hygiene: It means the necessary learning development tools that, the movie says, our society has actually left behind as it has advanced.

Of course, many caregivers in the United States aren't expecting to and can't afford to pay "tuition" for babies -- so what then? The film walks viewers through how many of the United States' social problems -- from high incarceration rates, health crises, and increased depression and suicide rates to substance abuse and economic woes -- could be curbed with concerted early education efforts on a national basis. According to the featured experts, it's actually cheaper for the government to spend the money on education up-front than to fix the issues retroactively. The film also offers useful insights on how to identify high-quality care and learning facilities and what parents and caregivers can do to ensure that young children's neurons activate and synapses fire. What sets this activist documentary apart from others is that its proposals feel within reach: Most U.S. residents and voters agree that it's important to invest in children to ensure a better future for the country. So whether it's nudging a member of Congress or employing the film's suggested techniques at home, the solutions feel possible. And that's a happy ending. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages of No Small Matter. Parents: How did you approach education when your kids were babies? Was it intentional or unintentional? Kids: Is there anything you think you should do now to set yourself up for success in the future?

  • If most people in the United States agree with directing resources to improving early education for the country's children, why make a documentary? What do the filmmakers want viewers to do?

  • What role does tech play in early childhood education?

Movie details

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