Stages of early childhood

Early childhood is a time of tremendous growth across all areas of development. The dependent newborn grows into a young person who can take care of his or her own body and interact effectively with others. For these reasons, the primary developmental task of this stage is skill development.

Physically, between birth and age three a child typically doubles in height and quadruples in weight. Bodily proportions also shift, so that the infant, whose head accounts for almost one-fourth of total body length, becomes a toddler with a more balanced, adult-like appearance. Despite these rapid physical changes, the typical three-year-old has mastered many skills, including sitting, walking, toilet training, using a spoon, scribbling, and sufficient hand-eye coordination to catch and throw a ball.

Between three and five years of age, children continue to grow rapidly and begin to develop fine-motor skills. By age five most children demonstrate fairly good control of pencils, crayons, and scissors. Gross motor accomplishments may include the ability to skip and balance on one foot. Physical growth slows down between five and eight years of age, while body proportions and motor skills become more refined.

Physical changes in early childhood are accompanied by rapid changes in the child’s cognitive and language development. From the moment they are born, children use all their senses to attend to their environment, and they begin to develop a sense of cause and effect from their actions and the responses of caregivers.

Over the first three years of life, children develop a spoken vocabulary of between 300 and 1,000 words, and they are able to use language to learn about and describe the world around them. By age five, a child’s vocabulary will grow to approximately 1,500 words. Five-year-olds are also able to produce five-to seven-word sentences, learn to use the past tense, and tell familiar stories using pictures as cues.

Language is a powerful tool to enhance cognitive development. Using language allows the child to communicate with others and solve problems. By age eight, children are able to demonstrate some basic understanding of less concrete concepts, including time and money. However, the eight-yearold still reasons in concrete ways and has difficulty understanding abstract ideas.

A key moment in early childhood socioemotional development occurs around one year of age. This is the time when attachment formation becomes critical. Attachment theory suggests that individual differences in later life functioning and personality are shaped by a child’s early experiences with their caregivers. The quality of emotional attachment, or lack of attachment, formed early in life may serve as a model for later relationships.

From ages three to five, growth in socioemotional skills includes the formation of peer relationships, gender identification, and the development of a sense of right and wrong. Taking the perspective of another individual is difficult for young children, and events are often interpreted in all-or-nothing terms, with the impact on the child being the fore-most concern. For example, at age five a child may expect others to share their possessions freely but still be extremely possessive of a favorite toy. This creates no conflict of conscience, because fairness is determined relative to the child’s own interests. Between ages five and eight, children enter into a broader peer context and develop enduring friendships. Social comparison is heightened at this time, and taking other people’s perspective begins to play a role in how children relate to people, including peers.


Jun 08, 2011 | Category: article | Comments: none

 


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