Although the development of each child is unique to the individual, there are certain ‘milestones’ that need to be achieved before a child moves on to the next stage of its development. These milestones, or averages, are used to assess the development of an individual child, all the time recognizing that different children will reach these milestones at different times.
There are five defined areas of development that can be observed during childhood and these are physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social development. I will look at these areas in turn, noting the average milestones that can be expected during the early years.
In the first two years of life we see probably the most accelerated physical development in a child’s life. They move from being unable to hold their own head up to being able to walk and run with confidence.
When a baby is born it will be very limited in its physical abilities, spending most of its time lying on its back. However by the end of 3 months a baby will begin to lift its own head, kick vigorously and follow the movement of its own hands. By 6 months it will be able to grasp objects, often trying to put them in its mouth. By one year most children will be moving either by rolling, shuffling or crawling (some will even be able to walk unaided by this time).
In the second year there will be the further development of mobility skills such as jumping, walking up and down stairs and being able to throw and kick a ball, though they may still lack confidence in catching a ball.
Between the ages of 3-5 a child’s physical development will have come on in leaps and bounds – literally! They will be able to run, jump, ride a tricycle, throw and catch a ball, balance, hop and move to music. Their fine motor skills have developed to the point that their drawings will now resemble the subject.
By the age of 8 they will have developed both physically and in confidence so that they will be able to jump from a height, ride a bicycle without the aid of stabilisers and will have grown in agility and coordination.
In the early months of a new-borns life they will begin to focus on faces and, in time, reach and grasp for objects that are close by. By the time they are 9 months old they will enjoy simple games (such as peek-a-boo) and be amused by more complicated objects. By the end of their first year a child will have begun to imitate those around it and will also be aware of how people react to their moods.
Pretend play becomes part of the child’s life by the age of two and will continue in complexity over the coming few years. By three their fine motor skills will have developed to the point where they can hold and control a pencil. Over the next two years their memory and concept of time will develop further and they will begin to recognize letters and numbers, being able to read simple words and count with confidence. For the most part, their inquisitiveness will know no bounds resulting in numerous questions.
From age 6-8 they will gain confidence in their numeracy, literacy and motor skills.
Communication for a 0-3 month old baby is limited to crying, gurgling and cooing. However over the following few months a baby will learn how to laugh and will begin to imitate sounds they hear. By the age of one they will have begun to understand and respond to simple instructions, and may be using simple words themselves. By the age of 2 a child may be using a limited number of words in speech, however they will understand a great many more.
Between the ages of 3 and 5 a child may experience some frustration in speech as they find it difficult to communicate exactly what they are meaning but they will continue to develop verbally and will become more inquisitive, asking questions and often understanding far more than they speak themselves.
By the age of 8 a child will be able to converse at a much more mature level and will have a wide vocabulary to draw upon.
The first signs of emotional development are seen when a baby begins smiling at around 5-6 weeks old. They will often respond to the attention given to them by others with a smile and will enjoy the interaction of another’s voice. However in the second half of the first year a baby will begin to show a distinction between those people they know and those they don’t, often becoming distressed if the main caregiver is not within sight.
By the time they are 3 they have become much more aware of their own feelings and why they feel a certain way. And by the age of 5 they are able to hide or control their own feelings and are beginning to understand others’ feelings.
Between the ages of 6 and 8 years old a child may become more competitive and assertive. This can lead to more demanding behaviour.
From birth a baby will learn to adapt and respond to the people around them. They will show pleasure at interactions with others but will probably show a preference for their main caregivers. By the age of two they will enjoy playing with other children but, as with any other skill, they will need to learn how to socialise, for example, learning to share.
Over the next few years a child will grow in confidence and will engage much more in social settings – making friends, taking turns and learning to negotiate. They will become much more aware of ‘self’ – their gender and culture – and will be developing a sense of right and wrong.
Between the ages of 6 and 8 some children will become very sociable, forming many friendships, sometimes with one particular ‘best friend’, whilst others will step back from social situations, preferring to spend more time alone.
Analyse key social, economic and environmental factors, which may influence development
The key social factor for any child that can affect its development, both positively and negatively, is that of relationships. A child in a loving and healthy relationship with a parent or primary caregiver will be more able to form healthy relationships with others; they will be in an environment where they can develop better social skills and be more self-confident.
The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (US) states that, “We have long known that interactions with parents, caregivers, and other adults are important in a child’s life, but new evidence shows that these relationships actually shape brain circuits and lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes, from academic performance to mental health and interpersonal skills.” (Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University: 1)
There are a number of ways in which parents or significant caregivers can help to steer the course of a child’s development. These include the way a child is nurtured, stimulated and modeled certain behaviours. For example having developed verbal skills will affect a child’s social development. A child whose parents talk to them frequently will likely be better equipped to engage verbally with other children. Babies listen to their parents’ conversations even before they can understand language and learn the basics of conversation before they begin speaking. Talking to a child frequently can encourage strong verbal skills, which, in turn, will encourage good social skills.
Economic factors can also have a substantial bearing on a child’s development. Factors such as persistent poverty, inadequate house and poor nutrition can all have a detrimental affect on a child’s development.
A study by Lisa Harker for Shelter in 2006 found that:
’Achild’shealthygrowthanddevelopmentaredependenton many factors, includingtheimmediateenvironmentin which they live. Research has demonstrated thatchildren’slife chances (the factors thataffecttheircurrent and future well-being) areaffectedbythe standard of their housing.’ (Harker, 2006 : 2) The study goes on to outline the effects that poor housing can have on a child’s health, both mental and physical, education and life chances.
Poor nutrition is another threat to a child’s continued development. Poor diet during early development (0-3yrs) can lead to learning and memory deficits, lower IQ and school achievement, and behavioural problems in childhood (Mcgregor, (1995), Lui et al, 2005 : 3). Children also require a varied environment in which to interact and explore. Actively engaging all of their senses stimulates brain cells and encourages growth. Therefore stimulation with appropriate toys and equipment in early childhood can have a significant impact on the child’s development.
Describe children’s overall development needs.
To progress in such a way that a child will reach the majority of their developmental milestones within a given timeframe a child needs, first and foremost, a positive loving relationship with a significant adult(s). This adult will provide for the basic physiological needs of the child (appropriate healthy nutrition, human touch and shelter), the safety needs of the child (keeping him/her safe from dangers in the immediate environment, safe from abusive relationships and making sure the child has access to appropriate health care) and the social needs of the child (unconditional love, room to explore and play and interact with other children and adults and giving them a sense of a place to belong). These foundational building blocks, which the significant adult puts in place in a child’s life, pave the way for a child to be able to develop further in all
five of the defined areas of development.