It is prudent to understand that our actions can have severe ramifications for the developing child. By taking simple measures, we can positively impact the development of a child and assure optimal development. These measures are evident in the choice of toys, books, and activities for children prior to kindergarten and beyond.
This document outlines the pertinent information on the typical abilities of children from birth to five (5) years old.
What is child development?
Child development is the sequence of physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes all children go through as they grow. These changes occur gradually over time and are influenced by genetics of the child and the environment in which he/she grows up in. Some changes are clearly visible and others are very subtle. Many of these changes will occur simultaneously. Essentially, as a child changes in physical stature, he/she will learn how to interact effectively and efficiently with his/her exterior world. He/she will develop thought patterns, interact with others and react to varying emotions such as anger, joy or fear.
Why is it important to understand child development?
- Understanding child development allows us the opportunity to impact positive measures to support development.
- Knowing about child development provides a guideline for individuals in a care giving capacity to recognize abnormal development and impact corrective measures.
- An understanding of child development allows care gives the opportunity to devise age-appropriate measures to assure children behave in a socially acceptable manner.
What Can We Expect From Young Children?
From Birth to 18 Months
Development in the first eighteen months is significant and drastic. There are extensive physical and biological changes. The brain undergoes significant changes and these changes are evident in the cognitive development of the child. During this stage, infants and toddlers experience ever increasing coordination as well as mobility skills, there is an increase in memory, and they develop emotional expression as well as rudimentary language skills.
Physical growth occurs extremely rapid within the first two years of life. By about 6 months, an infant doubles its birth weight and triples it by his/her first birthday. Additionally, an infant gains about 10 to 12 inches in height during the first 2 years of life. As the infant gets taller and heavier the proportion of his/her head to the rest of the body decreases from a point where the head is approximately 1/3 the size of the body to where it is 1/4 of the body size.
Milestones and other important facts:
- Brain development occurs rapidly in that the prefrontal area (area where cognitive functions are localized) of the brain is developed to the point where it is possible for the brain is baby is capable of exhibit some behavioral control. E.g. he/she may stop reaching for the first object he/she sees. This generally occurs between the ages of 7 and 9 months.
- There is a rapid excelleration in a baby’s ability to recall scenarios. Initially the baby reacts to the people and objects around them and eventually the baby is able to react to the absence of people and objects they have grown accustomed to. By the age of 1 year old, babies can remember past events with a great deal of accuracy and over a prolonged period of time.
- Babies are capable of simple categorizations involving objects and the people they come into contact with.
- Babies are able to imitate things they see even without understand what they are doing.
- Babies learn to understand language as they hear it. Frequently speaking to them accelerates their ability to speak.
- During this stage, they may or may not speak but they are able to produce sophisticated sounds. By approximately 6 months of age, they recognize words and familiar objects. By 1 month of age, they are able to understand common phrases and by 18 months, they should begin speaking and can use simple words such as you, me and I.
- When babies begin to move independently, they are free to explore their environment and manipulate the objects within. Social interaction is most important during this developmental stage.
Typical development for this age group:
- By 3 months, interaction is facilitated through direct face-to-face interactions.
- Infants are capable of displaying emotions which indicate that an infant is in distress by crying as well as flapping their arms and legs. When an infant does this he/she may be tired, hungry, sick, hot, cold, or frightened by loud noise. When this occurs, a care giver should comfort the infant. This builds a level of trust and assures that a child emerges from the Erikson’s stage of trust vs. mistrust with a sense that the world is a secure place for him/her to live in.
- Babies show interest in, pleasure, excitement, contentment, joy and affection. They are extremely tuned-in to faces and objects and show their emotions by cooing, babbling, and smiling in response to gentle voices, familiar faces, caressing, comforting, or feeding.
- Babies are capable of showing distress, sadness displeasure, anger, anxiety, or fear. These emotions are evident when they start crying, fussing and flailing their arms and legs.
- At around 6 to 9 months, babies form strong emotional attachments to specific caregivers, usually their mothers.
- By about 10 months, babies learn to interpret the emotional expressions of others and are capable of reacting to them.
- By the end of the first year, babies can differentiate people and can be affectionate to those whom they know.
At this stage of development, it is crucial to interact with the baby and play age-appropriate games as well as provide him/her with the necessary toys to stimulate development. These toys and games include:
- 1-3 months. Unbreakable mirrors which can be attached to the cribs, stuffed animals and other stuffed, rattles, music boxes and large colorful rings.
- 4-6 months. Vinyl or cloth books, Beach balls, paper streamers, cloth or vinyl books. Playing peek-a-boo is extremely fun for babies at this age.
- 7-9 months. Pop-up toys, large toys puppets or dolls, bath toys and stuffed animals. A good game of pat-a-cake is stimulating for babies in this age group.
- 10-18 months. Since the child is beginning to walk, push and pull toys may be ideal. The preferred toys for this age group include ordinary household objects such as large spoons, pots and pans and empty egg cartons. Simple ball games help to stimulate eye-hand coordination.
From 18 to 3 Years of Age
During this period, the child experiences many changes. These changes include physical, cognitive and social/emotional changes. These changes are responsible for the child’s ability to interact with others, reason a bit better, communicate using complete sentences, play with other children, engage in imaginary play and imitate the behaviors and actions of others. This is a very impressionable age.
Growth is not as rapid as during the first eighteen months of life, gross and fine motor skills develop at a rapid rate to the point where the child can:
- Crawl through tunnels, go over and under low obstacles, and move swiftly up and down ramps.
- Climbs low steps, pushes boxes and pulls toys.
- Walk and run but falls frequently.
- Loves to move on hands and knees pretending to be animals.
This stage is marked by changes whereby:
- The synapses in the brain continue to form rapidly.
- More complex thinking abilities emerge which enable a child to be capable of represent his/her world mentally and not to merely perceive experiences in the present.
- The child has an active imagination and can make up imaginary friends and engage in independent play. At approximately eighteen months old, the child is most likely to play by him/herself but as he/she matures and reach approximately thirty months, he/she is able to utilize objects to represent playmates.
- Towards the end of this period, children can imitate the actions of others when they are present and learn to imitate past actions.
- Problem solving abilities develop using rudimentary reasoning skills and not just by trial-and-error attempts.
- The vocabulary of a child increases to approximately 1,000 words by age 3.
- By the age of 3, children do have a rudimentary understanding of time but struggle with the concepts of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
- Attention span increases but it is still relatively short.
This stage is marked by changes whereby:
During this period, children learn to be independent and learn to engage in activities such as toilet training, feeding themselves, walking and talking. Children are egocentric at this stage and want their needs met immediately. They:
- Become experts at symbolic play.
- Take interest in other children and develop long-lasting friendship. During this stage, play with strangers is a difficult task and they prefer to play with familiar playmates.
- Toddlers learn social skills through play by imitating other children and adults and observing the actions of others.
- Toddlers progress from using emotional display and tantrums to express frustration to a more verbal form of expression.
- They are very territorial and are concerned with their material possessions.
- Experience new emotions such as pride, guilt, shame and envy. They can also regulate their emotions.
- Children can learn about the emotions of others and can be thought how to act in a manner which is respectful of the emotions of others.
- By age 2, children should display less separation anxiety when separating from familiar caregivers.
- They attempt to gain independence and will demonstrate rapid changes in mood when prevented from demonstrating independence.
Play is a very important part of socio-emotional development. As such the following toys and games can accelerate development.
- 19-21 months. Toys which can be taken apart and reassembled, Jigsaw puzzles with large wooden pieces, kiddie cars, toys that facilitate digging and small rubber balls. Children at this age enjoy playing water games, hide and seek as well as water games..
- 22-24 months. Toys that facilitate imaginary play such as kitchen sets and play household items such as vacuums and lawn mowers, action toys such as trains, cars and fire engines, modeling clay and construction sets. These toys help to develop eye hand coordination.
- 2-3 years. Roller skates or blades, crayons, work benches, tricycle and discovery zone toys. Games which involve the imagination may be particularly beneficial for children at this age as they expand their creativity.
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Cole, M. & Cole, S.R. (2001). The development of children. (4th ed.). New York: Worth.
Miller, K. (1985). Ages and stages—development and activities birth through eight years. Marshfield, MA: Telshare.
Reinsberg, J. (1999). Understanding young children’s behavior. Young Children, 54-57.
Suplee, C. (2000). Key brain growth goes on into teens. The Washington Post, pp. A1, A14.