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For the next few weeks, I’d like to explore some key points of child development from three years of age to eighteen. We must know what we are dealing with in order to deal with it effectively. The same goes for teaching. We would never walk into a room of kindergarten students expecting them to do algebra, or hand a class of high schoolers the Dolch pre-primer list and have them read it expecting growth in literature. Unfortunately with all of the paperwork, curriculum, district evaluation procedures, standardized testing, and new common core implementation, very few teachers have time to brush up on their child development.
Child development is a process every child goes through. This process involves learning and mastering skills like sitting, walking, talking, skipping and tying shoes. Most children learn these skills, called developmental milestones, during predictable time periods. Milestones develop in a sequential fashion. This means that a child will need to develop some skills before he or she can develop other skills. For example, children must first learn to crawl and to pull up to a standing position before they are able to walk. Each milestone that a child acquires builds on the last milestone developed.
There are five main areas of development in which children develop skills:
- Cognitive Development: This is the child's ability to learn and solve problems.
- Social and Emotional Development: This is the child's ability to interact with others, which includes being able to help themselves and self-control.
- Speech and Language Development: This is the child's ability to both understand and use language.
- Fine Motor Skill Development: This is the child's ability to use small muscles, specifically their hands and fingers, to pick up small objects, hold a spoon, turn pages in a book, or use a crayon to draw.
- Gross Motor Skill Development: This is the child's ability to use large muscles.
Through extensive research, we now know that neurons can continue to make connections on into adulthood. However, the fact still remains that the brain grows very rapidly with billions of neurological connections being made during the first three years of life so it is very important that children get adequate exposure early on to the five areas previously listed.
Although the digital age has expanded the abilities and knowledge of young children, it should never act as a replacement for providing the exposure children need in order to reach these milestones. Each child is an individual and may meet developmental milestones a little earlier or later than his peers. However, there are definitely blocks of time when most children will meet a milestone. And developmental milestones don’t just end once kids are six or seven. All five areas continue to develop up to the age of 21 for most children, especially boys. Although gross motor, fine motor, and speech and language development have reached a plateau, cognitive and social development will continue to snowball.
If we go into a classroom completely unprepared for whom we are teaching, it will be very difficult to see progress and will cause tremendous frustration for the students and for us. Our expectations need to be high, but not higher than what the child is developmentally able to give us.
In the next few weeks, I’d like to provide checklists in each area for each age of development. It will by no means be an end in itself, but more a springboard for teachers to use in order to evaluate and work from. We must also remember that children are individuals and will not develop in the five areas at the same rate.
This is where the importance of differentiated classrooms comes into play. All classrooms are differentiated by definition, meaning that not every student is in the same place as others. And even though it’s so very difficult in today’s world of education to find any extra time to evaluate outside of the box, let alone teach all over the board, if we do our homework beforehand it becomes easier to identify what we are dealing with in our classrooms.
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