Early childhood development focuses on a period of remarkable physical, cognitive, social, and emotional change. Infants enter the world with a limited range of skills and abilities. Watching a child develop new motor, cognitive, language, and social skills is a source of wonder for parents and caregivers.

During the early childhood years, such growth and change happens at a rapid pace, so fast that adults often marvel at how quickly certain skills emerge.

Physical Early Childhood Development

Physical changes are an important component of early childhood development. As a child matures, parents eagerly await important milestones, such as learning how to roll over and crawl. Each of these represents a part of physical development.

The maturation process happens in an orderly manner; that is, certain skills and abilities generally occur before other milestones are reached. For example, most infants learn to crawl before they learn to walk. However, it is also important to realize that the rate at which these developmental milestones are reached can vary. Some children learn to walk earlier than their same-age peers, while others may take a bit longer.

Motor Skill Development

As a child grows, his or her nervous system becomes more mature. As this happens, the child becomes more and more capable of performing increasingly complex actions.

The rate at which these motor skills emerge is sometimes a worry for parents. Caregivers frequently fret about whether or not their children are developing these skills on a normal timeline. As mentioned above, rates may vary somewhat.

However, nearly all children begin to exhibit these motor skills at a fairly consistent rate unless some type of disability is present.

There are two types of motor skills:

  • Gross (or large) motor skills involve the larger muscles including the arms and legs. Actions requiring gross motor skills include walking, running, balance, and coordination. When evaluating gross motor skills, the factors that experts look at include strength, muscle tone, movement quality, and the range of movement.
  • Fine (or small) motor skills involve the smaller muscles in the fingers, toes, eyes, and other areas. The actions that require fine motor skills tend to be more intricate, such as drawing, writing, grasping objects, throwing, waving, and catching.

Physical Growth

Physical development in children follows a directional pattern:

  • Large muscles develop before small muscles. Muscles in the body’s core, legs and arms develop before those in the fingers and hands. Children learn how to perform gross (or large) motor skills, such as walking before they learn to perform fine (or small) motor skills such as drawing.
  • The center of the body develops before the outer regions. Muscles located at the core of the body become stronger and develop sooner than those in the feet and hands.
  • Development goes from the top down, from the head to the toes. This is why babies learn to hold their heads up before they learn how to crawl.

Cognitive Early Childhood Development

Early childhood development not only focuses on the amazing physical growth that kids experience; it also encompasses remarkable mental development. Cognitive abilities associated with memory, reasoning, problem-solving and thinking continue to emerge throughout childhood.

Language Early Childhood Development

There is perhaps nothing more amazing than the emergence of language in children. Have you ever marveled at how a child can go from saying just a few words to suddenly producing full sentences in just a short matter of time?

Researchers have found that language development begins before a child is even born, as a fetus is able to identify the speech and sound patterns of the mother’s voice. By the age of four months, infants are able to discriminate sounds and even read lips.

Researchers have actually found that infants are able to distinguish between speech sounds from all languages, not just the native language spoken in their homes. However, this ability disappears around the age of 10 months and children begin to only recognize the speech sounds of their native language. By the time a child reaches age three, he or she will have a vocabulary of approximately 3,000 words.

Final Thoughts

Early childhood development is a period of rapid growth and change. In addition to the obvious physical signs of growth, children are also gaining a greater understanding of language, the world, themselves, and those around them. Learn more about some of the physical, cognitive, social, emotional and communication milestones that children experience as they develop through early childhood.

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