Early Years Alphabet: D is for Development
Children’s development can be broken down into many different categories. These often change between countries and cultures as various qualities are seen as more or less important. The most commonly depicted areas of development are Language, Physical (or motor), Social, Cognitive and Creative.
These areas are further expanded in the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Framework which practitioners will use to monitor and assist children’s growth. The areas of development defined in the EYFS, which are monitored in the UK, are:
- Personal, Social and Emotional
- Communication and Language
- Understanding the World
- Expressive Arts and Design
The way children develop is unique to them and their experiences and, while comparisons should not be made between children, there are ‘expected’ times in which they will reach certain milestones. Children are physically incapable of performing certain tasks at different ages; for example, a 2-month-old would not be expected to start walking, but estimations can be made for when children are physically and cognitively ready for these activities.
Regarding young children’s development, their ages are referred to in months rather than years. So ‘twenty-four months’ would be used, instead of ‘two years old.’ The early years sector uses months to measure development up until a child is 60 months (5 years) old.
While some elements of learning may happen naturally, children’s development progresses much quicker with adult support and guidance. Children absorb information from their environment and it is important to have role models showing them the most effective and safest ways to interact with the world around them.
Children start developing essential language skills from the moment they are born and having adults consistently talking to them helps them learn new vocabulary and associate words with different items, places and people. The ability to talk also goes hand in hand with other forms of communication such as body language and using gestures.
Before a child can communicate verbally they will use methods such as babbling, gesturing, crying and gurgling. These early forms of communication gradually develop into using speech and interacting verbally. Adults should help children use their words appropriately by narrating their play and demonstrating effective language skills.
Understanding and listening are key to using language, as children must learn to listen to their environment and comprehend what is being said to them. Once they know what is being asked of them, children can respond in suitable ways and have meaningful interactions with others.
Physical (or motor)
Children’s physical development primarily consists of gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills being large, whole-body movements, and fine motor skills being smaller ones using individual body parts. Gross motor skills help children navigate their surroundings, avoid obstacles and develop physical strength by doing activities such as dancing and climbing. Fine motor skills are used for holding and manipulating tools, later being refined into abilities such as writing.
Gaining control of their bodies takes time and children do not start being self-aware until about 2 months old. Once they start understanding that their bodies are their own, they can learn how to move it in order to achieve different goals, such as crawling towards a toy they want to play with.
Letting children try to do things independently is the best way to help them develop physically. They should explore movements and how to traverse obstacles, asking for help if needed. If adults do everything for children, even though they are old enough try and do it themselves, this can stunt their development and lead to more struggles in the future.
Social interactions are essential for children’s development and helps them to build positive relationships as well as managing their own emotions. By interacting with adults, children will understand they are there to help and look after them, creating a secure base for children to return to while exploring their surroundings. Interacting with other children allows them to make friends, resolve conflicts and learn how to socialise in appropriate ways.
Children who have been left in isolation or have had minimal social interactions in their early years have been shown to be underdeveloped in other areas. The extreme case of this is Oksana Malaya, a Ukrainian woman who was discovered living with a pack of dogs when she was 7 years old. The dogs essentially raised her and so she barked instead of talked, crawled instead of walked and was wary of other humans. She did manage to be successfully integrated back into society, but this was difficult due to her advanced age.
This story is a stark reminder of how much children learn from what they experience and just how crucial meaningful interactions with others are. By developing socially, they can understand boundaries and expectations as well as appreciating everyone’s differences, personalities and experiences. Children learn a lot from each other and should be able to interact and play together successfully.
Cognitive development refers to how children think and explore. This covers a wide range of skills such as problem solving, general knowledge and processing information. The first few years (0-5) of a child’s life are the most important. During this time, children learn faster than at any other stage in life, and many important connections are made in their brains.
Offering plentiful experiences within these first few years and exposing children to as many learning opportunities as possible will assist with their cognitive development. Showing them how things work, explaining what things are and helping them figure things out plants the seeds for enabling children to do this by themselves as they grow.
The world around children needs to be explored and, while they have a natural curiosity that pushes them to discover things, adults should be there to support them too. Aspects from the world beyond their reach should also be explained, such as learning about other countries, different animals and locations they may not have a chance to visit (such as the sea, rainforests and deserts).
Most children show signs of creativity. This can be displayed in a number of ways: by drawing pictures; painting; singing their own songs; making up dance moves; designing train tracks; building towers; and roleplaying. All these activities demonstrate creative skills and are equally impressive.
It is important for children to be creative for many reasons. Having a vivid imagination helps them roleplay with friends and represent their real-life experiences. Knowing how to envisage, design and execute an idea from their mind into a physical format helps children process their thoughts. Being able to make up and sing songs helps build their confidence and also lets them explore language.
These seemingly ‘fun’ skills also help children to develop in other areas, such as physically, socially, and communicatively. Creativity can also assist with emotional development as they learn how to express themselves in appropriate ways. How children display their creativity will be as unique and individual as they are, and any expressions should be embraced and acknowledged.
All the areas of development are remarkably intertwined with one another and so, by helping in one area, a different area can also be positively impacted. These areas are learnt simultaneously, rather than one at a time, and every child will learn at their own pace.