For parents, every day of their children’s lives is the most important day ever. However, the early childhood period is believed to be the most crucial developmental stage throughout the entire lifespan of an individual. This is the period when children build their physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills, all of which have a significant impact on their physical and mental well-being, academic performance and even economic participation throughout their lives. The things that happen to children, the experiences they go through and the people who surround them in their earliest years are critical for their life trajectory. Parents, alongside early childhood educators hold a large part of responsibility for fostering favorable conditions for children to go through this phase and get the most out of it. In order for that to be possible, they need to be aware of the basics of early development.
This phase is the foundation
If we would observe the brain as a building, we could see how early development is the foundation that affects all of the behavior, health and learning that follows. In this period, more than a million new neural connections are created every second. These connections are in charge of building the brain architecture, so it is imperative to view every situation as a learning opportunity and dedicate as much of your time as possible to aid in developing all of these essential skills.
The changes are cumulative
A child learns the first word – this word later becomes a phrase – then a sentence – then an entire vocabulary. Each stage of early childhood development builds on the previously mastered skill or learned behavior, and thus becomes the foundation for future buildups. Do not expect your children to know everything at the beginning, but also do not restrain from pointing their development in the right direction either.
Universal stages of early development
A child’s development happens in stages, and these stages are mostly universal, regardless of cultural or social background. Infants usually go from sitting up to crawling on their hands and only then walking. The role of parents in these earliest stages is to encourage kids to look and grab for toys and other items, to read and talk to them, to play simple, yet engaging games like peekaboo, and keep a watchful eye for red flags like problems with eye focus, lack of reaction to bright lights or the absence of response to loud noises.
The five developmental domains
The five developmental domains in which children develop are cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, motor and adaptive behavior. Although they are usually interrelated, they are discussed separately, because of the different ways to aid them.
The importance of the environment (family and early education centers)
In early childhood children are significantly sensitive to the influence from the external environment. Naturally, they develop best in warm nourishing surroundings that protect them from disapproval, punishments and any form of deprivation. Family has the most important role here, and parents should work on their parenting skills and approaches, as well as nurturing positive intra-familial relations. As for the educators, they can make an enormous difference in children’s development and health. Choosing an education center for your children is, therefore, one of the most impactful decision you will ever make. Experiences from Australian parents and centers like Lane Cove child care, tells us that the best programs for your children need to focus on believing in a child’s strong sense of identity, allowing expressions of individuality, encouraging curiosity and creativity, motivating effective communication and promoting appreciation for people, the environment and wellbeing.
Motivating learning and nurturing a love for knowledge
Children learn through playing, and they are constantly seeking opportunities to gain new knowledge, acquire new experiences and get to know the world that is surrounding them. That desire for knowledge will not always be as powerful as in their earliest years. They will learn the most from self-sustaining activities (things they want to do), but some should be extrinsically motivated by another party and rewarded. This means that you should sometimes guide your children’s play, but not manage it.
Every child is different
Finally, it is crucial thing to know and appreciate is that each child is a unique individual, even in this early phase. Through genes, learning and playing children acquire personality, attitude and intelligence. Some skills may come easily to your child, while others will take extra motivation and effort to master. There is also a need for an individualized teaching approach, which something a child can get only in the best early education centers.
Early development is the most crucial and most formative phase in children’s lives. What parents can do to make it fruitful is be there for their kids, be supportive and create a nurturing and encouraging environment that promotes learning, growth, and, most importantly, love.
About the author
Claire is a personal and professional development expert who believes that a positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can find her online writing and giving tips about lifestyle and development as a regular contributor at highstylife.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.