Stages of Growth in a Child’s Development

There are three broad stages of development: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. The definitions of these stages are organized around the primary tasks of development in each stage, though the boundaries of these stages are malleable.

Society’s ideas about childhood shift over time, and research has led to new understandings of the development that takes place in each stage. Let’s take a closer look at each stage.

Early Childhood (Birth to Eight Years)

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.

Implications for in-school learning. The time from birth to eight years is a critical period in the development of many foundational skills in all areas of development. Increased awareness of, and ability to detect, developmental delays in very young children has led to the creation of early intervention services that can reduce the need for special education placements when children reach school age.

Middle Childhood (Eight to Twelve Years)

Historically, middle childhood has not been considered an important stage in human development. However, more recent theorists have recognized the importance of middle childhood for the development of cognitive skills, personality, motivation, and inter-personal relationships. During middle childhood children learn the values of their societies.

Thus, the primary developmental task of middle childhood could be called integration, both in terms of development within the individual and of the individual within the social context.

Implications for in-school learning. For many children, middle childhood is a joyful time of increased independence, broader friendships, and developing interests, such as sports, art, or music. However, a widely recognized shift in school performance begins for many children in third or fourth grade (age eight or nine). The skills required for academic success become more complex. Those students who successfully meet the academic challenges during this period go on to do well, while those who fail to build the necessary skills may fall further behind in later grades.

Adolescence (Twelve to Eighteen Years)

Adolescence can be defined in a variety of ways: physiologically, culturally, cognitively; each way suggests a slightly different definition. For the purpose of this discussion adolescence is defined as a culturally constructed period that generally begins as individuals reach sexual maturity and ends when the individual has established an identity as an adult within his or her social context.

Implications for in-school learning. The implications of development during this period for education are numerous. Teachers must be aware of the shifts in cognitive development that are occurring and provide appropriate learning opportunities to support individual students and facilitate growth.

Teachers must also be aware of the challenges facing their students in order to identify and help to correct problems if they arise. Teachers often play an important role in identifying behaviours that could become problematic, and they can be mentors to students in need.

For more information about the importance of childhood development, or to book a consultation, contact Anel Annandale at 021 423 0739 or via email at  anel@childpsych.co.za.

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