What Is Early Childhood Development?

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Updated on July 25, 2023
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From childbirth through infancy and early formative years of growth, early childhood development is a highly complicated and continuous process that serves as a building block for a child’s educational achievements, responsible citizenship, and lifelong health. What should be done during this critical period to ensure a strong foundation for future growth and success? 

Early childhood development doesn’t only involve a child’s physical growth; it’s a comprehensive process involving a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and overall growth and development. From the cornerstone of a child’s overall happiness and well-being to significant future participation in society, these early formative years have a profound impact on the lives of children. 

In this article, let’s understand the detailed process of early childhood development and how we can modify it to bring a positive change! 

What are the Stages of Early Childhood Development?

From the prenatal to preschool period, a child undergoes several developmental stages during the early formative years. Let’s discuss those stages! 

The Prenatal Stage (Before Birth)

A child’s development begins even before birth, which is during the prenatal period of 9 months. This stage is further divided into three phases, including the germinal period, the embryonic period, and the fetal period. During the prenatal period, essential body organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs, intestines, and others, are formed; a child attains a human shape. The mother’s lifestyle and environmental factors play a significant role in modeling the prenatal period. 

Newborn Stage (birth to 2 weeks)

The second stage begins after parturition from birth till early two weeks of age. During this earliest period of a newborn being in a new world, the baby needs maximum attention from caregivers. They don’t give any expressions; they communicate only by crying and eliciting certain reflexes. 

Moreover, this stage requires plenty of nutrition, attention, hygienic practices, and proper breastfeeding to ensure a child’s healthy growth and development. 

Infant Stage (2 weeks to 12 months)

During this 12-month stage, rapid physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth and development make it crucial. Infants learn through experimentation and exploration, using their developing senses to understand things around them. This period involves several milestones, such as the baby first learning to lift a head, roll over the bed, sit up, crawl, and finally walk. 

Moreover, children develop communication skills during infancy through facial expressions and gestures, produce sounds, and interact with others. Patents must provide the infant with a safe and nurturing environment to ensure sufficient growth. 

Toddler Stage (12-36 months)

During the toddler stage, children learn about independence when they stand on their feet to see and explore the world around them. Being independent beings, they learn by play and exploration and develop their native language skills. Not only do they develop speaking skills, but also they try to comprehend what others are speaking, which is simply called cognition. 

It’s when you can make your child learn a language you want. If you expose your child to a stimulating environment where everyone is speaking English, your child will automatically comprehend, learn, and practice that language. The same goes for any language, whether Spanish or Chinese. 

Preschool Stage (3-5 years)

Followed by the toddler stage, beginning at three years till five years, a child enters a preschool stage in which it develops physical, cognitive, and social-emotional skills. Moreover, children at this stage engage in more complex play activities, interact with peers, and learn to follow instructions and rules. 

The preschool stage makes children much more independent; they start using toilets themselves, learn to dress and undress, and take care of their own basic needs. Children start developing their communication and interaction skills, from language development to practicing speaking. 

Children need supportive and stimulating environments to bloom to their maximum potential during this stage. As a caregiver or parent, you provide positive encouragement, countless playing and exploring opportunities, and endorsing their curiosity and creativity. You can also take your preschoolers to a daycare center to make them learn basic ethics, participate in sports and activities, and follow a consistent daily routine. 

Schooling Stage (5-8 Years)

Adding a little more independence and capabilities, the schooling stage allows the physical development of children with more complex tasks and activities. Children at this age start reading, writing, and solving simple math problems, which helps them to enhance their brain development and cognition. At this stage, parents should better provide their kids with some age-appropriate early childhood development books.

They start exploring their surroundings, unveiling mysteries in their little minds, and asking complex questions. The emotional and social development, which started earlier, continues in this stage. Children learn more about societal norms, relationships, and acceptable behaviors. They further start building stronger friendships and get more influenced by their peers. 

Let’s Explore Key Aspects of Early Childhood Development!

There are four key aspects of early childhood development. These include: 

  • Cognitive (Thinking, learning, and problem-solving)
  • Social and Emotional Development
  • Physical/movement development 
  • Language/communication

All these major domains intersect when a child enters a stimulating early childhood development environment. For example, when he expresses his likes and dislikes, emotional and social awareness develops through communication and language learning. Meanwhile, toddlers may make cognitive discoveries and learn to explore the world when they start physical movements. 

When you thoroughly understand early childhood development, you realize that mentoring children goes way beyond telling them letters and numbers. Advanced practices introduce language-rich, age-appropriate environments using play, physical activities, sports, games, and many more to engage a child in lifelong learning.

Important Milestones in Early Childhood Development  

Early childhood development isn’t a continuous and smooth process happening linearly, as described in textbooks or charts. Dr. Yares explains that it’s an uneven process, varying from child to child and family to family. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, there are several milestones a child undergoes during early childhood development. These include:

Milestones at 2-4 Months Age

At this age, the child begins to smile, look at parents, copy facial expressions and movements, start babbling, and try to hold his head up. 

Milestones at 6-9 Months Age

Children start recognizing their parents’ faces, have favorites, pick up objects, sit without support, and pull themselves to stand during this period. 

Milestones at 1 Year Age 

Children feel nervous and shy towards strangers, use basic gestures, speak basic words like “dada or mama,” follow directions, and take few steps without support. Early childhood brain development is one of the important milestones children achieve at the age of 1.

Milestones at 1.5 Years Age

During this period, the child learns to play with others, express their desires, speak single words, eat using spoons, and comprehend their surroundings. 

Milestones at 2 Years Age

Children start showing excitement toward their peers at this age, repeating overheard sentences, sorting shapes, colors, and letters, and beginning to run and climb. 

Milestones at 3 Years Age

A child starts showing concern for others at three years of age and exhibiting a wide range of emotions. Moreover, he also learns to dress/undress, follow instructions, and eat independently. 

Milestones at 4 Years Age 

A 4-year child starts talking about his interests, likes, and dislikes, knows basic grammar rules in making sentences, and pours, cuts, and mash food under a guardian’s supervision. 

Milestones at 5 Years Age

A 5-year child starts making clear and meaningful sentences, using the toilet independently, printing numbers or letters, and love dancing to music. 

The Impactful Role of Parents in Early Childhood Development 

Parents and caregivers play a significant role in crucial early childhood developmental years. Let’s discuss this below!

Parents Provide a Safe and Nurturing Environment 

From taking care of the individualized needs of children to mentoring them with life lessons, parents play an impactful role in providing safeguards to their young ones. The type of environment significantly influences the early childhood development process. 

The parent’s or caregivers’ responsibility is to ensure that their children grow in safe, stimulating, and nurturing environments. They can introduce age-appropriate toys, study materials, and other materials which facilitate positive and influential early childhood development. 

Fostering Healthy Eating Habits 

Child specialists suggest that diet and nutrition are vital in early childhood growth and development. The healthier the child’s tummy, the happier the child is. Parents and caregivers must ensure their children eat the healthiest food regularly. From providing a balanced diet enriched with essential nutrients to guiding them about the importance of regular meals at regular intervals, parents have to take care of their children’s eating habits. 

Encouraging Play-based Learning 

Play is one of the best learning tools in early childhood, which makes learning much more fun. Children learn problem-solving, social development, and motor skills while exploring limitless creativity. Parents must ensure that their children have sufficient resources to facilitate play-based learning. 

Educators’ Influence on Early Childhood Development: From Playmates to Mentors 

Teachers play significant, impactful roles in both early childhood education and development. ECE-trained educators understand developmental milestones and ensure child’s progress is aligned with standards provided by CDE. Through this, they can identify developmental delays and other issues that demand prompt attention. 

ECE teachers are specifically trained to deal with children from birth to eight, so they apply age-appropriate pedagogical techniques to young learners. They ensure they are not delivering more-than-required knowledge to young learners, which may stress their little brains. ECE teachers not only impart theoretical knowledge but also encourage play-based learning and hands-on experiences. 

Above all, they create a physically safe, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally nurturing environment to ensure optimal early childhood development. 

Conclusion 

In short, early childhood development constitutes early formative years that serve as the groundwork for a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and cognitive growth. It’s not a smooth or linear process; this developmental period is divided into several phases with specific milestones from prenatal to school age. Being an educator, parent, or caregiver, you need to develop a thorough understanding of early childhood development to ensure that your child grows in a nurturing environment!