According to the University of Michigan Health System, child development is a term used to refer to how children are able to do more complex things as they continue to get older. It should be noted that child development is different from physical growth. The following information describes the different types of early childhood development, the stages of development, and the milestones that are expected to be reached at each stage.
Types of Early Childhood Development
When understanding what early childhood development is, it’s important to remember that most experts and educators categorize the different areas of development. Generally, there are five different areas of development in children.
- Cognitive – Cognitive development in early childhood includes learning, reasoning, remembering, understanding, and problem solving.
- Social – Social development includes interacting with others and building relationships.
- Gross Motor – Gross motor development refers to being able to keep balance, sit, stand, walk, and run.
- Fine Motor – Fine motor development includes more detailed activities such as eating, drawing, tying shoelaces, and dressing.
- Language – Language skills involves communicating as well as understanding what others are saying, and using gestures and body language.
Each of the previous five areas of early childhood development have stages in which certain milestones are normally reached.
Early Childhood Development Stages: Cognitive Skills
Simply Psychology notes that Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first psychologist to systematically study cognitive development. Many of his contributions related specifically to children. Piaget concluded that there were four general stages of cognitive development in early childhood.
- Sensorimotor – This stage generally lasts from birth to 2 years-old. A child’s behavior is limited to simple responses caused by sensory stimuli.
- Preoperational – Children in this stage are between 2 and 7 years-old. A child is learning to use language but doesn’t have the ability to mentally manipulate information or understand the viewpoint of others.
- Concrete Operational – Children between the ages of 7 and 11 are in this stage. A child can think logically about concrete events but has difficulty with the abstract or hypothetical.
- Formal Operational – This stage is for those 11 years-old and beyond. A child learns how to think abstractly and use deductive reasoning.
Early Childhood Development Stages: Social Skills
According to Erik Erikson, there are eight stages of social development. The Child Development Institute describes each of these stages and details what is involved as a child progresses through each stage. Erikson notes that the last three stages occur in adulthood.
- Hope – This stage occurs from infancy to about 18 months and is based on whether an infant develops trust or mistrust with the primary caregiver.
- Will – The virtue of will should result if a child between the ages of 18 months and three is able to start doing basic things without shame or doubt.
- Purpose – Ages 3 to 5 focus on the child beginning to interact with others. Success is determined by not feeling guilt when initiating interactions and questions with others. This will establish the virtue of purpose.
- Competence – Competence instead of inferiority will be established if a child successfully develops specific skills such as reading and writing. This occurs in the 5-12 year range.
- Fidelity – Between the ages of 12 and 18 children need to establish their own identity. If the child is not sure about his or her place in society this can cause role confusion.
- Love, Care, and Wisdom – These virtues are developed throughout adulthood.
Early Childhood Development Stages: Gross Motor Skills
The Children’s Therapy & Family Resource Center lists several milestones that should be reached during a child’s development of gross motor skills:
- Between 12 and 18 months – A child should begin to walk independently, seat him or herself on a small chair, throw underhanded when sitting, and be able to crawl up stairs.
- Between 18 months and 2 years-old – A child should be able to squat, run, throw a ball, kick a ball forwards, and walk up and downstairs holding an adult’s hand.
- Between 2 and 3 years-old – A child should now be able to stand on tip-toes, ride a tricycle, stand on a balance beam, stand on one foot, and catch a ball.
Early Childhood Development Stages – Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills normally develop after gross motor skills and involve smaller muscles in the wrists, hands, and fingers. Study.com lists several fine motor skills that children should acquire and the approximate ages by which these skills should be developed:
- Up to 3 Months – A baby should be able to grasp and hold an object, such as a parent’s finger, for a few seconds.
- 3 to 6 Months – A baby should be able to grasp an object for up to a minute. This is known as the palmar grasp.
- 6 to 12 Months – A baby should point to an object using the index finger.
- 12 to 24 Months – The child should be able to pick up and release an object and turn the pages of a book.
- 2 to 3 Years – During this time a child should be able to fold a piece of paper in half and snip with scissors.
Early Childhood Development Stages: Language Skills
PBS.org lists several skills children should have acquired at various ages when communicating and learning language. The following are some of the milestones children should reach at certain ages.
- By 3 Months – A child should respond to speech by looking at who is speaking, react to changes in a speaker’s volume and tone, and recognize and respond specifically to the voice of a parent.
- 3 to 6 Months – The child should be able to listen to conversations and repeat some vowel sounds.
- 6 to 12 months – The child should begin to associate simple gestures with one or two word phrases such as bye-bye.
- One to Two Years – Children should be saying a few words and eventually phrases. They should understand and respond to simple words and phrases.
- Three to Four Years – During this time children should be able to speak and understand sentences. They should be able to follow a series of 2-4 related directions.
- Five Years – By five a child should be able to understand the sequencing of events, retell a story, and follow three unrelated commands.
Teachers and Childhood Development
Early education teachers need to understand the different stages of development among their students. There are several prominent organizations that can provide training, workshops, and early childhood development articles on their websites to guide teachers. A few of these organizations include Division for Early Childhood, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and Early Childhood Australia.
There are some basic guidelines for teachers to keep in mind when working with young children. Teachers need to realize that each child will not develop and acquire the same skills at exactly the same age. It’s also imperative to work along with parents when getting to know each individual child and determining the best practices to help that particular child learn. The NAEYC offers some tips for teachers working with preschool age children.
- Make sure to establish a regular schedule and routine. Maintain a balance between consistent routines while still being flexible when the situation calls for change.
- Be organized and prepared. This usually means planning for the unexpected as much as possible.
- Learn to observe each child. Watching the children play and interact is the best way to get to know their individual needs and how each child learns new skills.
- Be patient. Working with children is rewarding, yet often challenging. It is sometimes when a teacher least expects it that breakthroughs in learning will occur.