Early Growth & Development

From the time of birth until Kindergarten, there are approximately two thousand days. Research shows that these two thousand days are a critical period of growth and development in a young child’s life. It is the mission of the Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Team to promote high-quality family childcare and early educational opportunities during this important time.

The Iowa Early Learning Standards summarize developmental expectations for children from birth through age five. This document also contains an alignment with the Iowa Core Kindergarten Literacy and Math Standards.

Trending Topics in Early Childhood

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is influenced by how a child approaches learning as well as his or her biological makeup and environment. A child’s background knowledge, or knowledge base, also affects the way a child thinks. This background knowledge influences the child’s information processing, memory, classification, problem-solving, language acquisition, and reading and mathematics learning. What and how children learn often varies considerably from culture to culture.

The physical environment of the home, child care center, or classroom and the kinds of interactions children have with adults and other children influence the way children approach learning and other aspects of their cognitive development.

Play is important for learning; researchers have found many connections between cognitive competence and play particularly high-quality dramatic play.

Teaching Strategies GOLD, Teaching Strategies. 2010

Cognitive Development Objectives

  • Demonstrates positive approaches to learning
  • Remembers and connects experiences
  • Uses classification skills
  • Uses symbols and images to represent something not present

Typical Cognitive Development

Cognitive development includes a wide variety of new skills and ways for children to look at the world around them.  Families, caregivers and teachers should be watching for how children interact with the world around them (dealing with frustrations and new information); how they attend and persist in tasks; how they solve problems and how they develop skills that will lead to later knowledge in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

  • PBS: The Whole Child looks at cognitive (thinking and reasoning) development.
  • “Get Ready to Read” offers suggestions for the most important milestones and what to do when you have concerns about your child’s cognitive (thinking and reasoning) development.

How to Facilitate the Development of Cognitive Skills

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive skills) are developed when adults interact with infants, toddlers and preschoolers in playful ways throughout daily routines. Asking questions, setting up situations that require problem-solving and allowing and encouraging children to explore new and familiar materials will all help to develop a child’s thinking and reasoning skills.

  • NAEYC discusses the importance of playing with your children, play and learning go together to facilitate cognitive development.
  • Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development Play is the mechanism by which children learn—how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalize new ideas — and is, therefore, the essential “work of children” (Paley 2004).
  • Scholastic discusses how 3 to 5-year-olds begin to develop “new” ways of thinking and viewing the world. The article what this thinking looks like and how parents, teachers, and caregivers can support this development.
  • Tools to Enhance Young Children’s Thinking describes a series of “thinking routines” which preschool teachers can use to help children develop their thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Ages & Stages: Helping Children Develop Logic & Reasoning Skills: 3 to 6-year-olds change their thinking perspectives drastically. Learn what those perspectives are and how to facilitate their further development.
  • Let’s Play provides families with fun ideas for keeping babies, toddlers and preschoolers entertained and learning, especially during daily routines like commuting time, chores, bedtime and bathtime, mealtime and shopping. There are also “boredom busters” at any time. Parents can search activities by age (0-18 months, 18-36 months, and 3-5 years), tag favorites, and share activities via social media.

Kindergarten Readiness, Guidance & Transitions

In Iowa, the only requirement for attending kindergarten is that a child is five years old by September 15. As the transition to kindergarten draws near, families often seek information about their child’s “readiness” for participating in the kindergarten curriculum. “Readiness” for kindergarten is more than knowing letters, sounds, and numbers. Other factors, such as overall health and well-being, social and emotional skills, language development, and enthusiasm and curiosity for learning, also need to be considered. Besides looking at the whole child when thinking about kindergarten “readiness”, it is also important for families, caregivers, and early education professionals to think about what type of kindergarten versus other early childhood experiences will be available for children.

Families who are concerned about their child’s future success in kindergarten should ask for assistance from school district staff in finding appropriate support and early learning opportunities for their children, no matter if the child will spend another year in an early childhood setting (preschool) or make the transition to kindergarten. Often, a meeting including families, preschool staff and school district staff can help to clarify readiness concerns. The team could also explore options for services and supports in order to smooth the transition for the child.

Language Development

Language is the principal tool for establishing and maintaining relationships with adults and other children. Children’s desire to communicate their thoughts, ideas, needs and feelings with others motivates them to develop language. Learning to understand and use words is complex.

Language development begins at birth, but many children do not receive the ongoing experiences that support this learning. Strong language skills are essential for children’s success in school and life. Oral language, including grammar, the ability to define words, and listening comprehension, helps provide the foundation and is an ongoing support for literacy.

Teachers are very important in helping children develop a strong foundation in language. The opportunities children have for sociodramatic play and the level of that play affects children’s language development. Higher levels of play allow for increased language and more complex language structures.

Teaching Strategies GOLD, Teaching Strategies. 2010

Language Development Objectives

  • Listens to and understands the increasingly complex language.
  • Uses language to express thoughts and needs.
  • Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills.

Typical Language Development

Language skills change rapidly in infants, toddlers and children. It can be difficult to know what to expect, and in what order. These resources and websites provide you with milestones of normal language development.

How to Facilitate the Development of Language Skills

Children use language to think and solve problems. When you talk and play with your child, you support his/her language development.

Physical Development

Physical development includes children’s gross-motor (large muscle) and fine-motor (small muscle) skills. Motor progresses predictably, from simple to complex, in a head-to-toe direction. Children gain control of their bodies in a predictable sequence as well, from the center of their bodies and outward to their fingers and toes. Children need many opportunities to practice their gross-motor skills, e.g., pulling, climbing, running, kicking, throwing and jumping, and their fine-motor skills, e.g., cutting, drawing and writing.

Physical development affects other areas of development. Brain development is supported by early positive movement experiences. Other research indicates physical development is linked to children’s emotional development and their school performance.

Teaching Strategies GOLD, Teaching Strategies, 2010

Physical Development Objectives

  • Demonstrates traveling skills.
  • Demonstrates balancing skills.
  • Demonstrates gross-motor manipulative skills.
  • Demonstrates fine-motor strength and coordination.

Typical Development of Physical Skills

The rate of motor development varies greatly from child to child, but the progressions which children go through for both fine and gross motor development are very consistent. These websites offer suggestions for typical developmental milestones in this area and possible “red flags” for parental concerns.

How to Facilitate Physical Development

Motor development is not automatic. If children are to develop physical competence, they need to practice and apply previously learned skills. This practice should be through a variety of meaningful and fun play activities which get children moving throughout their day. These sites contain suggestions for activities that families, childcare providers and teachers can do with children to encourage health and motor development.

Social-Emotional Development

Young children’s social-emotional development involves learning how to understand their own and others’ feelings, regulate and express their emotions appropriately, build relationships with others, and interact in groups. Social-emotional development flourishes when children have close, supportive, and trusting relationships with adults. When adults are responsive, when they express pleasure about children’s accomplishments and discoveries, and when they create an environment in which children can participate actively in daily routines and experiences, children know that adults consider them to be important, interesting and competent.

Children’s interactions with others are crucial to their learning. When their interactions are positive, young children are more likely to have positive short- and long-term outcomes. The strong connection between early relationships and later behavior and learning makes it especially important for parents, caregivers and teachers to be aware of children’s social-emotional development and to support their growth and competence in this area.

Teaching Strategies GOLD, Teaching Strategies, 2010

Social-Emotional Expectations

  • Regulates own emotions and behaviors.
  • Establishes and sustains positive relationships.
  • Participates cooperatively and constructively in group situations.

Typical Development of Social-Emotional Skills

Children develop social-emotional skills from their earliest days. They can be harder to recognize than physical or language but are equally important. These sites offer guidelines for typical development in this area:

How to Facilitate Development Through Play

Social-emotional development flourishes when children have close, supportive, and trusting relationships with adults. Playing with your child is one way to support the development of those trusting relationships. Children develop lifelong social-emotional skills as they move from turn-taking with a favorite adult in “peek-a-boo” to waiting their turn in a simple board game.