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A Close Observation of The Cognitive and Physical Growth of Children During Their First 3 Years

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Table of contents

  1. Physical Development
  2. Cognitive Development
  3. Social and Emotional Development
  4. Conclusion

Jack (pseudonym) is a 20 month old child I observed while visiting the CSUS Children’s Center on campus. He exhibited great examples of all three domains of development, of which I will provide specific instances in which each domain was addressed.

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Physical Development

Jack exhibited motor skills that were on track for his age of 20 months. He was able to push a toy bus around on the ground while walking; at one point he stood up, using his left hand for support, and placed the toy on the table. At another time, he was following a girl in play high heels around and was able to walk very well. Outside, he was running around while pushing a toy around simultaneously; when he finished with this, he proceeded to the sandbox, where he was able to scoop sand into his toy dump truck and pail.

According to Berk and Meyers, “Gross-motor development refers to control over actions that help infants get around in the environment, such as crawling, standing, and walking. Fine-motor development has to do with smaller movements, such as reaching and grasping” (2016, p. 181). Jack’s gross-motor skills were displayed when he was standing around, running, walking both forwards and backwards, and stabilizing himself with his left hand. His fine-motor skills were displayed when he grasped the toy and the shovel, and again when he was able to reach and scoop the sand into the bucket. His movements were confident and showed that he was on track with his physical development.

Cognitive Development

While outside, another child was playing in the corner with a sensory board – various things on a board that make different noises and/or have different textures. Jack heard one of the sounds and squealed. He then ran over and watched the child do it again. After a couple more times, he himself touched the board. Another time as Jack was pushing his toy around outside, another child was doing the same. At one point, the other child stopped and sat in the toy and then began to push himself using his feet. Jack observed this and began to do the same. Both of these examples suggested that Jack was beginning to enter sub-stage 6 of Piaget’s Six Stages of Sensorimotor Intelligence. Table 6.1 in the text explains that in sub-stage 5, there’s an “exploration of the properties of objects by acting on them in novel ways; imitation of novel behaviors” while in sub-stage 6 toddlers have “internal depictions of objects and events” and “deferred imitation” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 203). Jack acted on the sensory board after watching what happened when the other child acted on it; just as he watched the other child sit in his toy and push himself around and then he proceeded to do the same. He imitated the acts of the other children after noting their outcomes. In both examples, we see that Jack learns from watching others. We see his cognitive processes at work in the time that it takes him to watch and observe, and then choose to act.

When it came to language development, Jack didn’t do much speaking. The sounds I heard coming from him were more in the range of squeals and other vocalizations. There was a time when he teacher asked him if he knew where the play shoes went and he responded by saying “shoes” and pointing in the correct direction. At other times, if he wanted something from another child, he would squeal and grab at it; and when pushing the toy bus around he was able to make car noises, like “vroom” and “beep.”

According to Table 6.3 in the text, at around 18-24 months toddlers “spoken vocabulary expands from about 50 to 200 to 250 words” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 235). While Jack didn’t say much when I was there, his ability to comprehend what the teacher was asking of him and then respond showed that his language development is on track. The only word he spoke was attributed to an object and most of his attention went to the investigation of objects as opposed to his peers and teachers, showing that he has a referential style of language; this means his vocabulary “consisted mainly of words that referred to objects,” and his attention displayed an “active interest in exploring objects” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 239). This is also in line with his culture, being an English-speaking child, “object words (nouns) are particularly common” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 239). Being that Jack is 20 months old, I wouldn’t say that he is too far off track from forming two-word or telegraphic speech. Other circumstances could be that he’s learned to communicate this way – by vocalizing as opposed to speaking – with the other children around him and it works so he feels no need to speak, and therefore he possibly uses more words with adults.

Social and Emotional Development

For the most part, Jack displayed an easy-child temperament and autonomous personality. At one instance, he was playing in the sandbox with some other children. He abandons his toy dump truck for an empty pail in the sandbox. Another child sees him play with the pail and proceeds to grab for it. A struggle match ensues until one of the teachers gives Jack the pail and removes the other child. A second later, he’s banging on the pail and vocalizing. At another time, a child swipes at his hair and takes his toy. They try to push the toy together, and then Jack begins to scream. The teacher again remedies the situation by taking the other child away and Jack goes on.

He displayed some of the basic emotions of humans, including, happiness, interest, and anger (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 246). He was autonomous in his actions as opposed to showing shame or doubt and wasn’t overly attached to his caregivers. But, his emotional self-regulation was still a work in progress; “emotional self-regulation requires voluntary, effortful management of emotions… [and] contributes greatly to autonomy and mastery of cognitive and social skills” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 252). “When 2-year-olds feel distressed, they can guide caregivers in helping them,” as opposed to describing to his teachers that he was upset and what happened with the pail and the other toy, he chose to scream until the teacher came; since he’s not just yet 2, it makes sense that he would choose to vocalize as opposed to speak (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 253). But he was able to get over his distressing emotions quickly, as soon as the other child was removed each time, he was able to go on about his business. This all speaks to his temperament, “the easy-child…is generally cheerful, and adapts easily to new experiences” (Berk and Meyers, 2016, p. 254). He showed a high activity level, he had an adequate attention span for his tasks, didn’t display irritable distress for too long after a situation had occurred, and was generally happy most of the time valid through his expressions and vocalizations.

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Overall, Jack was a great child to observe. The environment he was in provided adequate stimulation from peers and activities, allowing me to see his interactions with his environment in various settings. Jack showed the he was on track for his age with the three domains of development. He had a good grasp of his gross and fine-motor skills, could asses situations and learn from others before trying new things, could speak some and could express his emotions in a way that are socially identifiable as to what he was feeling. As a result of this assignment, I’ve learned that many things go into the development of a child. Development doesn’t occur in just one set way for everyone but there are similar markers of development among peers. And while I wasn’t able to interpret most of his behavior to the fullest extent – because I wasn’t able to observe his home life and how he responded in other settings – I did get a good sense of who he was at the time and how adjusted he was to his life.

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