Child Growth and Development
The role of a 4-H leader comes with great responsibility—helping young people develop into responsible, productive citizens and contributing members of society. You don’t have to be an expert in child development to be able to do this, but there are some basic concepts you can learn that will help you communicate and work effectively with youth of all ages. Understanding the common physical, social/emotional and cognitive development stages of young people will help you know what to expect of children and what to do to help a child develop all of his or her abilities.
Basic Principles of Child Development
Children’s development is multidimensional. Children develop in three broad areas, which child development experts (Berk, 2008) refer to as “domains” of development: • Physical development—Changes in body size, shape, appearance, functioning of body systems, perceptual and motor capacities, and physical health. • Social/emotional development—Changes in a child’s unique way of dealing with the world (e.g., understanding and expression of emotions, knowledge about others, interpersonal skills, self-awareness, friendships, moral reasoning and behavior). • Cognitive development—Changes in intellectual abilities, including learning, memory, reasoning, thinking, problem-solving, creativity and language development. These domains of development overlap and often interact with each other. What happens in one domain can have a major influence on another domain. For example, the toddler’s newly acquired ability to walk (physical development) can influence his or her potential to learn about new aspects of the environment (cognitive development). On the other hand, if a child has a physical impairment, such as the inability to hear, it can affect his or her social/emotional and cognitive development (e.g., language acquisition). In addition, development can occur unevenly across the various domains. In some children, physical development outpaces social/emotional development, or vice-versa. Children’s development occurs in a predictable (orderly) sequence. While there are always exceptions, children’s growth and development normally occurs in a predictable manner across the various domains (i.e., children tend to go through similar changes at certain intervals). Children’s later abilities, skills and knowledge are built upon those acquired at an earlier age (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997). This does not mean, however, that all children will develop in the same way or achieve certain developmental milestones at the same time. Every child is a unique person, with a unique personality, temperament, learning style and family background. There will always be variations in development from child to child. Developmental charts that identify key milestones for children at different ages and stages of development are not intended to be viewed in a rigid manner. They provide parents with an idea of what tends to happen in a child’s life within a particular age range. However, parents should be aware that if a child has not reached a certain developmental milestone at the expected time, it could be a sign of a problem that should be assessed by a pediatrician or specialist. Children’s development is affected by early experiences. It is well established that children’s early experiences can have a decisive effect on their later development (NICHD, 2006). Those experiences, depending on whether they are positive or negative, can facilitate or hinder healthy development. In no other area is this clearer than in a child’s early brain development. Researchers have discovered that there are optimal periods, also known as “sensitive periods” or “windows of opportunity,” for acquiring certain kinds of knowledge and skills (e.g., language development). Good prenatal care, warm and loving parent-child attachments, and positive stimulation from the time of birth provide children with an optimal environment for development. A...
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