Core Concepts of Prenatal, Infant, and Toddler Development (page 2)
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.
3.Self-Regulation Is an Important Indicator of Development
When infants begin to recognize when they are hungry or sleepy, focus on what is important, and tune out extraneous noise, for example, they are regulating their reactions to the world. When toddlers begin to express sadness or happiness without falling apart, attend without often becoming distracted, wait a few minutes for lunch, touch a flower gently, and process information without becoming overwhelmed, they are demonstrating self-regulation The process of adapting reactions to sensory experiences, feelings, the environment, and people.
One can see how these behaviors provide the foundation for all further learning. The ability to self-regulate is the backdrop of capabilities that allow the child to concentrate on a task, focus on another person’s feedback in a social situation, and control emotions in positive ways (Bronson, 2000a, 2000b; Kopp, 2000).
4.Children Contribute to Their Own Development Through Active Exploration
Infants don’t need lessons to learn to walk, or drill practice to learn to talk. Rather, babies desire to walk and talk; they practice on their own and with responsive peers and adults. They act on their environment: They put objects in containers to figure out where they go. They shake, bang, roll, and stack objects to see what will happen. They make all kinds of funny sounds to get a response from a laughing sibling. They have goals, such as getting a favorite adult to look at them or opening a door, and they experiment with different strategies to make these events happen. When all is going well, infants and toddlers are curious, energetic, and motivated to figure things out. They are communication partners who need to take a turn in a conversation, even if the communication turn is a sneeze or a soft cooing sound. When given the opportunity (and this is how they learn best), they follow their interests with adults who keep them safe, talk to them, nurture them, and support their learning. They are motivated to learn about themselves, others, and the world in which they live.
5.Human Relationships, and the Effects of Relationships on Relationships, Are the Building Blocks of Healthy Development
Relationships have an effect on relationships (Hinde & Stevenson-Hinde, 1987). This concept means that what infants learn in their first relationships is how to be in relationships. If the initial relationships are satisfying and enjoyable, then young children learn to trust, communicate, negotiate, show empathy, and cooperate with parents, peers, and others they meet—the building blocks of satisfying relationships. How they are cared for in these first relationships influences their sense of self-worth and whether they view themselves as lovable. How infants and toddlers experience their first relationships influences not only the quality of future relationships but also their ability to learn. When relationships are comfortable, stable, and constant rather than anxiety producing, confusing or frightening, then babies have the emotional energy and feelings of safety to focus on exploring and investigating—important aspects of learning.
6.There Is a Broad Range of Individual Differences
One infant walks at 8 months of age and another at 14 months. One infant begins to say words on his first birthday and another is babbling “Dada” when he turns 1 year old. A toddler learns to use the toilet on her second birthday, while another waits until she is 3 years old. These are all normal variations in motor, language, and adaptive development. However, while some children who aren’t saying clear words by 2 years of age may eventually start to talk, others may have a hearing impairment or auditory disorder that must be diagnosed early in the infant’s life so that appropriate intervention can occur. Because of the broad range of individual differences, it is sometimes difficult to determine the difference between an individual difference in development and what might be a developmental delay that requires intervention.
7.The Development of Children Is Both Continuous and Discontinuous
Terri, 4 months old, likes to learn about the shape and texture of a safe, soft rattle by sucking and chewing on it. By 9 months she is trying different ways to learn about the object. She shakes, bangs, switches hands, turns the rattle over to inspect the other side, tries to roll it and sit on it, and throws it many times, only to retrieve it by crawling very quickly across the floor. This trajectory or path of development is continuous, as Terri seems to progress forward in her acquisition of skills that help her learn about objects such as rattles. Discontinuity may also occur at significant points of development when the child’s behavior seems very different from the age before. For example, 7-month-olds (as opposed to 2-month-olds) have a cluster of skills that propel them to be social partners who “act as if they understand that their thoughts, feelings, and actions can be understood by another person” (Zeanah, Boris, & Larrieu, 1997, p. 166). A toddler also seems worlds apart from an infant and has developed a whole constellation of skills that contribute to the 2-year-old’s emerging independence, a marked contrast to only a year before. These points of rapidly increasing skills in development are considered transition points, as they have effects on both how the baby views the world and how the teachers and caregivers interact with the infant or toddler.
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