The Promise of Your Child’s Early Development - Make the Most of It

31 May 2017

make the most of early child development blog

In the precious little time you have to do activities with your little one, you want to make the best use of it for fun as well as developmental purposes. We want you to capitalize on these crucial early years for the sake of your child’s optimal growth. In paying attention and working with your child’s development, you are giving your preschooler a head start in school and life in general. In creating Skilly-do, I can say that I am most proud of Skilly-do’s sound developmental foundation. We offer more than a collection of fun and easy activities for preschoolers, we provide a developmental reason for everything you’ll find on Skilly-do. You might say, “So what’s the big deal about that?” In this blog my answer is, It’s a really big deal and here's why:

Early childhood is a time of immense promise and rapid change. There is a multitude of research that backs up this fact. But I realize that as busy parents and child caregivers, reading research articles isn’t part of your lives. So I’m here to make it easy for you to understand the most important, basic developmental information about these critical early years of your child’s life. I would like to explain in a very straight forward way, why knowing about your child’s development is immensely and essentially important. Knowing about the way your child grows and develops, you can make the most of both these crucial early years and future years of life as well. Let’s look at the three main areas of your child’s development: Cognitive, Affective, and Physical.

Cognitive - Mental Development

The term cognitive refers to mental processes. During the first five years of life, mental processes like thinking, understanding, and learning are developing at a very rapid pace. For instance, research tells us that the developing brain is most open in the early years than at any other time to the influence of experiences and relationships. Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in their life. Scientists use the term “plasticity” to refer to the capacity of the brain to learn from experience, which is greatest early in life and decreases with age. In simple terms, your adult brain is a bus on a local route and your preschooler’s brain is a direct, bullet train.

I also like to think of preschooler’s brains as sponges, quickly soaking up new learnings.  This is why at Skilly-do, we have definite reasons for every activity, to take advantage of preschooler’s rapidly growing brain power. That is why you see developmental skills such as change perception or visual acuity listed for every activity. Skilly-do members can learn all about these and other core developmental skills in our Child Development Guide.

One of the main areas of cognitive growth in the early years is language development, which includes both listening and speaking. Your child’s ability to listen and understand spoken words is obviously important in everyday life, but is even more so in future school years. You can give your child a head start by spending time with them doing Skilly-do activities that emphasize these skills, in areas such as audio perception and social development. From language development research, we also know that children who are read to on a regular basis learn to read faster and better. This is why we have regular Skilly-do Book Reviews so that you have a source for appropriate books for your preschooler. Your child’s language skills-- the ability to speak so that others understand and to listen to comprehend what others say-- is essential for everyday interactions and will be crucial for their school success.

Besides reading to your preschooler, there are also so many simple, everyday ways you can easily encourage language development. Since your child’s brain so quickly absorbs information in the early years, it’s important that your child lives in a world full of diverse, spoken language. Speaking of, in talking with your preschooler, don’t avoid  “big words.” You are stretching your child’s vocabulary when you consistently challenge them with unusual, new words.  I remember using the word “obstreperous” with my three-year-old Head Start class. When first hearing it, they wanted to know what it meant. Once they knew, they loved it and used it frequently themselves to describe someone being noisy and difficult to control.  

I also challenge you to remember to take time to talk with your child and not always at your child. Taking time to sit and engage in a give and take conversation with your preschooler are precious, fleeting moments. We have designed our Chatty-do’s as quick activities that focus on language and social development for this very reason, to encourage their growing language skills. You'll also notice that we incorporate developmentally appropriate "Skilly Sparks" into each activity. These are there to support talking with your preschooler about ideas, enriching your preschooler’s language before and during our activities. It’s for this reason that we focus on a Skilly Spark about change perception when making a Skilly-do Eat It! snack. Talking about how things become different when they are combined in a recipe helps your little one understand the basic science concept of how materials change. This will also be an important learning that directly applies to math learning in primary school. By simply talking with your child, you are helping develop your child’s growing understanding of many new concepts.

Affective - Social Development

The term affective development refers to social emotional growth. Emotional growth refers to the growth of a child’s feelings, and social growth is the child’s growth as a member of a group. In the early years of your child’s life, a growth-promoting environment-- one that is rich in social interactions with adults who connect positively and in developmentally appropriate ways-- prepares your child’s developing brain to function well in a range of circumstances. Young children develop within an environment of relationships that begins in the family, but also involves other adults who play important roles in their lives. These relationships affect virtually all aspects of development; intellectual, social, emotional, physical and behavioral.  

This developmental process begins with infants and is fueled by reciprocal, serve and return interactions through activities such as babbling, facial expressions, gestures and words. Adults who are responsive return these serves with similar vocalizing, gesturing, and emotional engagement.Young children and parents both can initiate and respond in this ongoing process. This serve and return behavior continues throughout the early years like a game of tennis or passing a ball back and forth. These reciprocal and dynamic interactions are essential for your child’s healthy development and literally shape the architecture of the developing brain. If the adult’s responses are not consistent, or not suitable for the age of the child, such as expecting a two-year old to easily share toys, or are simply absent, the child’s brain development may be disrupted. And later learning, behavior, and health may be impaired by the stress caused by these responses

So, it’s obviously quite important that you create for your child an environment that fosters social and emotional growth by being responsive to your child. It’s not only essential for optimal brain development, it will be crucial for your child’s future school experiences as well. If you have created a positive interaction with your child, this will enable your child to interact with other children and adults in the same way.

Physical -Motor Development

One of the most basic things you need to know about your preschooler’s physical/motor development is that it has a very clear pattern. All motor development proceeds from  top to bottom and from large to small. You can see the top to bottom physical development clearly demonstrated when babies are able to hold their heads up long before they are able to walk. The large-to-small development pattern means that the large muscles are the first to develop, like those in the arms and legs. For example, your child will learn to walk long before being able to hold a crayon. Growth of the small muscles in fingers, hands, toes, and eyes develop later than large muscles. 

So you may ask what difference does knowing this make at all? Again, I will answer, a very big deal. While large motor activities are and should be a part of all early childhood education, your child will come to school already pretty adept at using the large muscles in the arms and legs. In kindergarten and in primary school your child’s small muscles will be called on far more than the large muscles. So, where you can help your preschooler the most is in the area of small motor skills.

Doing activities that flex the small muscles in the eyes, hands, and fingers will go a long way in preparing your preschooler for “big school.” Our Skilly-do visual acuity activities are designed to encourage your preschooler to notice differences, to really look and see things clearly. Visual acuity will be so important in the future when your child is learning to read and has to recognize the small differences in letters lower-case letters like “b” and “d” or “o” and “e.” Another small motor visual skill, left-to-right tracking, is another area where you can give your preschooler a head start on learning to read in the future. Our Skilly-do left-to-right tracking activities help your preschooler learn and practice this motion, which is essential to reading in English and other Latin-based languages. Last but not least, we purposely have included many small motor skills activities to enhance the use of the your little one's fingers and hands. This is because the two-finger grip that your child uses in painting and printing activities is the same grip your child will use to hold a pencil in school. 

I sincerely hope that after reading this blog you realize the importance of knowing the basic concepts related to your child’s development. Check out my other blogs, like Prime Times for Brain Development and A Child's History of Scribbling series for even more information on how your child develops in these and other essential areas. Your preschooler will absolutely benefit by your knowing more about these areas of development. And don’t forget, having fun can be developmentally important as well.

Let us know if you learned anything new about your child’s development from this blog.  What did you find most helpful? You can give us your feedback right here.