This time of life is known to be the “critical window of opportunity” for development as your child has the opportunity to learn information and skills easily and spontaneously through everyday life and support. Once the window has closed, however, the same skills must be learned the hard way… through memorization and repetition. In order to best facilitate learning and development, the child must be ready to learn, and the environment should be able to nurture the mastering of the new skill. This is a case of both nature and nurture.
HOW DO WE LEARN?
Babies and young children love exploring the world through movement, touch, sound, taste and looking. They are inquisitive beings trying to make sense of their own bodies and the world around them. The sensory systems are some of the first to develop in utero, and impact a baby from birth. Those that are more sensitive may shy away from noise, light, touch, tastes and movement.
They may appear more irritable, harder to settle and always on high alert.These children are at risk for developmental difficulties as they are often in a high stress state which affects eating, sleeping, calm-alert states and bonding. Other children may be the extreme opposite, loving being messy from head to toe, constantly mouthing items, making noise for noise sake and taking excessive movement risks. The importance of sensory play cannot be understated as it builds a solid foundation for all other development including motor, emotional and cognitive learning.
Our bodies are made to move, and in moving we gain gross motor stability and control necessary for functional skills such as walking, jumping and running, but also gain stability for fine motor skills such as posting toys, eating, writing and cutting later on. If we do not have a stable gross motor base, the other systems are often compromised. It is also interesting to think that when a baby learns to crawl, they learn to navigateheir body in, through, over and between various spaces which builds neurological pathways for spatial awareness and mathematics.
If a child were to miss out on such an early milestone, the impact will be seen in various areas such as learning, fine motor skills and bilateral coordination. As with all milestones, they are a guideline and babies and children are encouraged to meet these milestones within three months of the suggested time frame. If a child is delayed, it is worth speaking to your paediatrician about further assessment and therapies.
Social and Emotional
Humans are social beings however we often underestimate how early on the social and emotional relationship
develops between babies and carers, and later how this is solidified with toddlers and young children. Harvard University has coined a term “Serve and Return” to describe the early bonding opportunitiesand relationship building done from the first days of baby’s life, and all through their foundation years.
Play provides an opportunity for children to explore emotional, social, physical and intellectual aspects in their lives. It gives them a space of freedom and joy where they can be who they want to be in any moment, and eventually develop who they are that makes them different from others. Here are some top reasons why play is important for early development:
- Play is fun and social. Learning to play well, both by themselves and with others, sets children up to be contented and sociable. Through play, children learn about turn-taking and sharing.
- It allows a child to see and interact with a toy for what is it, say a block, but also to use their imagination and creativity to turn that block into a car, muffin or a monster. This provides endless opportunities to discover and learn.
- Play lays the foundation for literacy. Through play, children learn to make and practise new sounds. They try out new vocabulary, on their own or with friends, and exercise their imagination through storytelling.
- Play gives children space to practise physical movement, balance and to test their own limits. It gives them an opportunity to make choices and see where those choices lead them and what can come from their decisions and actions.
Developing language skills is of absolute importance for young children’s success later in life both as social beings, and also academically. The development of language is strongly linked to brain development and cognitive development. Studies have shown that having a more extensive vocabulary increases creativity and helps children to come up with new ideas.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
Now that we understand how we learn and the importance of early childhood development, we can see how the foundations we may not pay attention to in our everyday play, really assists in building fundamental skills needed for learning and development.
|AGE||FOUNDATION NEEDED TO DEVELOP SKILLS||SKILL DEVELOPMENT|
|Birth to 3 Months||- Visual and tactile stimulation
- Language stimulation
- Movement stimulation
|- Begin to smile, track people with their eyes
- Drawn to bright colours
- Turn toward sound
- Discover feet and hands
|4 – 6 Months||- Physical play and movement
- Language, singing and talking stimulation
- Sensory Play and Stimulation
|- Smile, laugh and gurgle
- Develop a preference for people they are
- Listen intently and respond when spoken to
- Imitate sounds
- Mouthing objects
- Rolling begins
|7 – 12 Months||- Motor skills such as balance, bilateral coordination and
- Language enrichment
- Play opportunities to explore and learn
- Sensory stimulation through touch, sound, sight, movement
and body awareness
|- Remember simple events
- Identify body parts
- Experiment with objects
- Stand with support
- May start walking
- Solve problems such as posting objects,
finding where things fit or what goes together
- Begin pretend play
|1 – 2 Years||In addition to all the foundation work laid down above, children
now need support
- Motor, language and thinking
- Developing independence through mastering acquired skills
- Self control through sensory and behavioural regulation
- Play with others becomes more important
- Social interactions
|- Imitate adult actions
- Experiment with objects
- Speak and understand words and idea
- Problem solve
- Begin pretend play
|2 – 3.5 Years||- Read books and sing songs for language development
- Messy tactile play for increased fine motor demands
- Diversity of movement to improve balance needed for
- Improved gross motor endurance to sustain efforts during the
- Sensory body awareness
|- Enjoy learning new skills by scaffolding known
tasks and their requirements and creating new
ways to play
- Gain independence
- Develop friendships
- Potty training
|3.5 – 5 Years||- Sensory systems are well aligned to allow for good focus and
- Gross motor control and coordination
- Fine motor dexterity and endurance
- Improved vocabulary, listening skills and social interactions
|- Improved focus and attention span
- Increased physical demands through sport and
- Puzzles, construction, spatial awareness
activities become more prevalent
- Increased fine motor demands such as
colouring, cutting and drawing