Early childhood development is often celebrated by parents, early childhood educators, family, and friends of the family alike. Young children naturally reach certain developmental milestones such as learning to sit up on their own or babbling their first words, and those who care for and love the children applaud these efforts. These are signs that a young child is growing up, but they may also important signs that a child is developing at a normal rate.
There are times, however, when such milestones are not met, and this can be worrisome to parents close to the children. Understanding more about early child development is key to ensuring a child is developing normally and can help you to understand when to seek support services.
Early Child Development
Infants, older babies, toddlers, and young children all develop at their own pace, but there are some important signs that indicate a child is developing normally. When an infant is born, the brain is fully developed. However, the connections between brain cells will mature for several years after birth. Through various forms of interaction as well as stimulation in the child’s environment, parents and those close to the child can encourage early childhood development. While some parents focus on buying educational toys, basic efforts such as reading, singing, and talking to a child, even an infant, can encourage development.
What Are Child Development Milestones?
It is important to note that each child develops at his or her own pace. Milestones are used as guiding points to determine if early child development is proceeding normally. A child’s pediatrician will ask if a child has reached certain milestones at each well-check, and the milestones that a pediatrician will look for will change with age. For instance, some of the many common milestones that a pediatrician may ask about include:
• A baby staring at a face at age 1 month
• A baby gurgling and cooing at age 2 months
• A baby grasping a toy at 4 months
• A baby sits without support at age 6 months
There are dozens of milestones that a pediatrician may consider, and it is in the best interest of a parent, early childhood educator, or others close to a child to understand the development milestones appropriate for a child’s age as well as for the next few months, too.
Why Early Childhood Development Varies
Young children each development at their own pace. Often, development is more rapid in a child who is provided with guidance and encouragement to achieve milestones. For instance, a baby who is never offered a toy to grasp may take a longer time to learn how to grasp at objects than a baby whose parents and other caregivers regularly hold a small toy in front of the child. While there are physical aspects of development that must take place, such as a child physically developing the muscles necessary to grasp the toy, child brain development must also take place. For instance, it is not uncommon to see a child reach for a toy for many days before he learns to wrap his fingers around the toy and hang onto it. It is important to note that much is still be learned about childhood development. The ECD Mapping Initiative is a five year project that is taking place in Alberta, and through this research project, researches are learning more about how children develop and the efforts parents and educators are taking to promote development.
Guiding Children to Achieve Milestones
Those who regularly spend time carrying for a child can encourage children to achieve important milestones. Many parents and other caregivers focus on celebrated milestones such as baby’s first words or baby’s first steps, and many will spend long hours trying to encourage these milestones. Providing such opportunities and encouragement for development is important. However, caregivers and parents should not that lesser known milestones are equally as important. It is advisable that parents and caregivers take time to research milestones that are appropriate for the child’s age as well as for the next level of development, too. Consider offering opportunities for a child to fully development and reach all milestones rather than only the most celebrated events. Development learning opportunities can help children grow and develop at a natural pace.
When To Be Concerned
Many parents commonly look at early child development in a social context. For example, their child isn’t yet trying to use a spoon and hasn’t mastered drinking out of a sippy cup. Yet their cousin who is two months younger is already doing these things. While it is understandable that this may be concerning for a parent or caregiver, it is entirely normal for childhood physical development and mental development to occur at different rates. Parents and caregivers who have concerns should first take a moment to consider if opportunities for a child to develop in certain areas were provided. For instance, with the example above, has the child been offered a spoon and sippy cup regularly for several weeks? If so, you can consider calling your pediatrician to discuss your concerns. Provided a child is otherwise developing normally, being slower than average in meeting a few milestones is not cause for alarm.
Educational Opportunities in Early Childhood Development
Many individuals make the decision today to pursue a career in early childhood education. There are numerous career options that may be followed in this area, and they include:
• Early childhood education teacher
• Early childhood special education teacher
• Early childhood education director
These are a few of the many educational opportunities an individual may pursue. While some daycare centers do not require a development degree to teach and care for young children, greater career opportunities are available to those who pursue a higher level of education. It is not uncommon for professionals to work in the field and to earn ECE units for career advancement in tandem with gaining professional experience. They can also earn them online in parallel with their current position.
Understanding early childhood development is important for many reasons. The first few years of life are an important time for physical and mental development. Parents and caregivers should understand and encourage a child to reach milestones through regular efforts. They should also educate themselves about which milestones are normal, and seek the advice of a pediatrician when milestones are not achieved.