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Core Concepts of Prenatal, Infant, and Toddler Development

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

After analyzing what is known about the brain, early experiences, and child development, the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development from the National Research Council Institute of Medicine (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000) proposed that 10 core concepts frame our current understanding of early development. These core concepts of human development are based on clinical and research findings from 1925 to 2000 and “help to organize what is known about infants and families and to suggest what is yet to be discovered or understood”. These concepts provide a framework for thinking about what is important for infants and toddlers to develop optimally, how and when infants and toddlers best learn, and how problems in development can be prevented. As we enter the new millennium, parents and professionals have these useful core concepts as guides for interacting with very young children; for developing quality programs that support infant development and families; and for creating systems, laws, and public policies that value the amazing early years. These concepts are briefly introduced here and they will be revisited numerous times throughout the text. The titles of the core concepts have been rewritten to capture the primary meaning expressed in the concept.

1.Both Nature and Nurture Affect Children’s Development

It has often been asked which has more effect on a child’s development: nature (Genetic influences on the growth and development of a child.) or nurture (The influences of the environment, experiences, and education on the growth and development of the child.)  This is no longer a controversy in the early childhood field. There is a complex interplay between these two in the development of an infant (Gottlieb, 1992). Both play their parts in shaping who the infant will become. The impact of the child’s experiences is dramatic and specific; it actually affects how the brain is wired for future learning (nurture). The quality of early care has a decisive and long lasting impact on how people develop, their ability to learn, and their capacity to regulate (control) their own emotions. On the other hand, scientists are making remarkable discoveries about the genes that govern the color of our eyes, the shape of our nose, and the susceptibility to certain diseases (nature). Those discoveries will further enhance our understanding of the interaction effects of environment and heredity (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington, & Bornstein, 2000; Olson, Vernon, Harris, & Jang, 2001).

2.Culture Influences Development and Child-Rearing Beliefs and Practices

All families and cultures have different backgrounds, experiences, dreams for their children, habits, and customs that guide their thinking about raising children (Coll & Magnuson, 2000). Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own culture (Small, 1998), and these beliefs about development, child-rearing practices, and family and community customs and routines continually influence the child and the family’s thinking and feeling. A rich and valuable array of beliefs and practices define who children and families are, how they interact and care for others, their traditions, and their way of life.

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