5 MAIN AREAS OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT: THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Watching your child develop is a beautiful and incredible thing. It’s so exciting as they grab a toy for the first time, say their first words, and take those first steps. However, it may be less exciting when they hit you or another child for the first time. Child development, meaning your child’s growth mentally and emotionally as well as physically, is happening all the time. The more you know about what your child is going through and what their needs are, the better equipped you will be as a parent to aid them on this journey and to enjoy it together.
We have listed the five main areas of child development along with some examples of how you can meet your child’s needs as they go through different stages:
🌻 Cognitive Development
It is the growth of a child's abilities and knowledge to understand their environment/ surroundings. It includes their ability to learn, think, feel, explore, make decisions, and solve problems, among other things. With a young child, everything is new for them. When a child explores their world and is exposed to a wide range of emotions, experiences, and circumstances, their brains are continuously processing new information (what, where, how, and why) and developing cognitive thinking.
As parents, it is important that you participate in quality interactions with your child on a daily basis to foster cognitive development. Examples of activities:
- Reading to your child. Reading to your child every day from the time they are born helps develop their language skills - speaking first, followed by reading and writing.
- Provide your child choices and prompt them to make decisions. You can prepare Montessori shelves and booksheves at home, then let your child choose a book they feel interested in or an activity/ toy that they want to play with, they can take it down then put it back on the bookshelves/ shelves by themselves once finished. If possible, you should create a Montessori environment at home for your little one (You can read other articles for more information: 5 basics for a Montessori upbringing at home, and The first steps to setting up Montessori at home).
- Observe to see what your child’s interests are then expand the learning opportunities based on those observations – in other words, Follow the child. For example, if your child shows an interest in painting, you could bring them to the art museum. Or after showing your child a book with plants and animals, you could take them to visit The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens. There are many places in HCMC that you can visit with your child to have practical lessons with valuable experiences.
- Children always have tons of questions about the world. For their “Why” questions, you should both offer your explanation while encouraging their exploration: let them figure things out or find the answers, then you can explain and offer conclusions. Guide them by offering further questions you can ponder together: “That is a good question, I wonder how airplanes can fly too, let’s find out together!”
- Allow your child to experiment with different approaches to problem-solving. By doing this, children develop a sense of creativity and flexibility as well as logical thinking.
🌻 Emotional Development
This is when your child begins to have more self-awareness and express and manage their emotions appropriately. Here are some activities to encourage this kind of development. Examples of activities:
- Naming your own and your child’s feelings as often as you can, but especially during times when your child is struggling. If your child is frustrated and reacts by crying out it is helpful to work through the moment together by guessing at how they are feeling and what might be making them feel that way. Don’t ask “why are you angry?” most likely they either don’t know or don’t yet know how to communicate it. Instead, approach the situation as a helper: “I see you are yelling and stomping your foot, it looks to me like you are angry, are you angry because you wanted to open the door first?”
- Help your child manage feelings and control their behaviors/ actions. For example, one time my daughter slapped a girl on the shoulder. I reaffirmed that we don’t hit, but if we are excited we can give a high-five. Often young children act out of impulse and in that moment they need our support, not our reprimands. A child that lashes out and hits may do so completely unexpectedly even for themselves in such a moment they may laugh out of embarrassment. As parents, we can use this moment to show kindness and understanding and model for our children how to handle their emotions and actions in such a moment.
🌻 Social Development
This is when your child begins to acquire the capacity to interact and form relationships with others.
- Give your child opportunities to play with other children, take them to a playground for instance. As much as you feel comfortable, allow your child to play and interact with others at their own will and pace without your interference. Of course, if there is a safety concern parents should step in.
- Meeting friends and creating meaningful experiences. A personal experience: a friend of my daughter comes to visit us on the weekend with her mother; after playing together, they climb up the Learning Tower and prepare some food together such as egg salad. Both of these girls learn how to interact with one another, support each other, and share meals by playing and working together.
- If a difficult situation arises between yours and another child, you can offer your assistance and guidance, model, or narrate through the situation. A typical situation we all have dealt with: Your child sees a toy at the playground and runs to grab it, the second your child is holding it the owner of the toy comes running over grabbing it back calling out ‘it’s mine!’. Instead of urging the owner of the toy to share, we can help our child to understand the situation. You may say something like: “Wow, that must be a really special toy, if you want to use someone else’s things we should ask first, you hold your hand out and ask ‘may I use it’ he/she may say ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. Continue to narrate as the situation plays out, if the toy is not handed over, calmly explain to your child, “ He/she isn’t ready to take turns with that toy right now. Let’s go find something else you can play with and maybe we ask again later if he/she is ready to take turns.”
Note: In Montessori, we use the term ‘take turns’ instead of ‘share’ as children are not expected to give their things away, but instead can use the toy and then allow another to have a turn if they so choose. We do not expect children to ‘take turns’ if they do not want to. We respect that children may want to keep their special toys for themselves and ‘take turns’ when they are ready.
🌻 Speech and Language Development
This involves your child’s ability to both understand and use language. We are talking about vocabulary, questions, pronunciation, following directions, etc... Examples of activities:
- Little babies babble quite a bit. When they begin to make sounds, it is their way of trying to imitate what they see and hear their parents and others doing - they are learning how to communicate. Try to always talk to your baby as you interact with them. For instance, when changing their diaper, explain to your baby that they have gone pee and need a fresh dry diaper, explain as you are picking them up and laying them on their changing pad. Talk to your baby throughout the whole process both to show respect to your baby, but also to develop their language. Remember that babies are always listening and watching - they see the movements of your mouth and will try to replicate them.
- Answer your baby when they make sounds. Remember that all those cute little baby babbles are your child trying to communicate with you. Respect your baby’s intelligence by avoiding baby language and instead respond and speak in sentences. Your responses to your baby’s babbles will stimulate their reaction with voice and they will continue to try to talk.
- Read to your child, speak in complete sentences, and sing nursery rhymes - all of these are simple things you can do every day that will aid in the development and understanding of language and sounds in your child. When reading a book together, avoid quizzing your child on what they know, instead, you can state it aloud as something you observe. For example, instead of asking “What color is that bird?” You can say “I see a blue bird sitting in the tree.”
- Use rich language as you speak to your child. Don’t ‘dumb down’ your language for your child, but if using a new word explain what it means or give a known synonym.
- Singing nursery rhymes helps your child begin to hear rhythm and rhyme in language. All great stepping stones for the path to learning to read and write.
- Play ‘I-spy’. If you have a child that has begun to show an interest in print and letters a great beginning game is I spy. Take an object, for example, a toy pig, and say “I spy with my little eyes something that starts with the sound ‘p-p-p’” The child will look at the pig and say “pig!” Together you can name other things that start with that same sound, of course with you guiding at the beginning. Teaching first to hear the beginning sounds of words, then ending sounds, finally middle sounds. This is a great first step before leaping into letters and letter sounds.
🌻 Physical Development
Gross Motor Skill Development is one of two aspects of physical development that involves the use of big muscles and the entire body to explore the environment. Walking, running, jumping, kicking, climbing, and so on are all examples of those big muscle movements. Examples of activities:
- Prepare a baby gym for your child. Hang mobiles or other high-contrast toys above them and watch as your baby strives to reach them. Their eyes also get a workout. Give your baby a safe and unrestricted space to move - a soft mat or rug is perfect. Avoid seats or swings that restrict movement. If your baby is awake, avoid swaddling them so they can move their limbs freely and learn about their body as well as their surroundings.
- Remember to give your child tummy time every day, and if you have a little one that is not a fan of this part of your routine, laying your baby on your chest is a great alternative. It makes it easier for you to continue to interact with your little one while they develop those essential muscles.
- Sing songs with movement or dance, a great time to get in touch with your silly side!
- Take your child to a park or a playground where your child has opportunities to walk, run, jump or swing. Create an obstacle course at home with things from around the house- stools, couch cushions, etc. Besides, you might set up a Pikler Triangle for them to continue their physical development and exploration at home (especially during these uncertain times with social distancing, also for stormy and rainy days). We have loved our triangle and it works so well for us as we live in a small apartment in Saigon, Vietnam. Actually, we even used it as a baby gym for our second baby - it is so versatile and is suitable for children ages 0 to 5. We have an article about how to use the Pikler Triangle for different ages/ stages of development; read more HERE.
Fine Motor Skill Development is the second part of physical development; it’s the child’s ability to use small muscles such as hands and fingers to interact in their environment. Examples of activities:
- You can give some toys that your child can easily grasp, such as the Manhattan toy Skwish or tie some old scarves to your baby gym or Pikler triangle. Around 6 to 7 months your baby will be developing their raking grasp while later around 9 months your baby will begin to develop a pincer grasp. Another perfect place for your baby to develop these muscles is at the dinner table as they try to pick up food and coordinate their hand, eye, and mouth!
- While reading with your baby, you can let them interact with the pages of the book.
- As your child grows and develops more exacting movement and control, you can involve them in more daily activities. Give your child opportunities to practice and refine their skills. For example, your child can help with plant polishing, transferring large objects (such as walnuts) with tongs, enjoying some arts and crafts either by finger painting or trying to hold a thick-handled brush, and so on (Read more for which activities at which age). One suggestion is that you invite your child to the kitchen. You just need to prepare a Learning Tower or a Step stool to enable your child to safely reach the kitchen counter and have opportunities to practice washing, scooping, mixing, and so on (Read more about what needs preparation & what activities your child can do in the kitchen).
Parenting can be the most beautiful and happy moment alongside some of the most challenging and frustrating ones. The more we understand about how our children are changing and growing and what they are going through at different ages, the more enjoyment we can get out of being a parent and the stronger our relationship with our child will be.
We at Góc Montessori hope this article was useful in better understanding your child as they grow and change and giving you some insights or ideas on how to meet the needs of your child as they go through these wonderful changes of childhood.