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The five milestones of early childhood development contain linguistic broadening, playing (social skills), self-identity, gender identity, and locomotion. Language development begins with informal and formal education where the child imitates his parents and teachers (those around him). Learning the alphabet and simple words are precious keys which unlocks the world of communication to him. Since he or she has already gone beyond the Id stage, guided by instinct and crying, the child is acquiring grammar and vocabulary skills. Playing becomes more and more crucial to a child’s feeling at home and bonding with peers and family; also, the “playground gives children freedom to be physically active, but the playground can also be an outdoor learning laboratory with numerous exciting and challenging activities” (Alexander 2008). It is these challenges which exerts and pushes the mind to think of strategies and problem-solving skills. Playing, the development of games enhances the child’s ability to think, learn the rules, set goals, and devise tactics to win. The playground becomes an education field where frequent interaction educates him or her. “Children use fine and gross motor skills in their play. They react to each other socially. They think about what they are doing or going to do. They use language to talk to each other or to themselves and they very often respond emotionally to the play activity. The integration of these different types of behaviors is key to the cognitive development of young children” (Fox 2008).
Identity is wrapped up in not only being acquainted with one’s name, but also one’s race, family, nature, and reality. In early childhood, the child learns from his parents who he or she is. Connected with self-identity is gender identity. “By the age of 2, children can usually accurately identify others as either male or female, based on appearance” (Hutchinson 2008 ). The child understand gender to be based on the genitals where “genital constancy has been found to be associated with an understanding of the relationship between gender and genitals” (Hutchinson 2008). At this point, the child is usually aware of his phallus and can distinguish between a girl and a boy, through the genitals and physical characteristics. Gender preferences also begin to be moulded in the psyche as far as clothes, toys, and games are concerned where “existing cultural standards about gender are pervasively built into adult interactions with young children and the reward systems which shape behaviour” (Hutchinson 2008). As far as race identity goes, “children first learn their own racial identity before they are able to identify the race of others…however identification is limited to skin colour” (Hutchinson 2008).
Locomotion is a continuous course of action where the baby has to be carried, being totally dependent on the adult for transportation from one place to the next. Dependency on the parent or caretaker for locomotion lasts on average one year, until he or she learns to move on the floor, and crawl on all fours. Children “not only have to develop balance control in a dynamic situation; they also have to produce the successive phases of disequilibrium and balance recovery which are necessary for gait (Savelsbergh 1993). Savelsberg posits that developing locomotive competence in early childhood requires the mastery of balance control and posture control. At first movement may have to be assisted but as confidence grows, one step at a time, the limb muscles become strengthened to stand and walk. As the child’s observational skills deepen, he or she sees others walking upright on the feet, and when encouraged to do so, will make valiant efforts at gaining equilibrium while attempting to move forward. Locomotion is critical to early childhood development since learning is never stagnant or static, one must move to experiment more to gain wider understanding.
Children learn by repetition. The process of learning is greatly enforced and the child learns to perceive, observe, and imitate. Piaget said ‘‘intelligence is a basic life function that helps an organism adapt to its environment” (Sigelman, C. 2009). The child’s cognition covers two main phases in early childhood development, which are the sensorimotor and preoperational wherein “according to Piaget each new stage of cognitive development is a coherent mode of thinking applied” (Sigelman 2009). The sensorimotor (birth-2years) stage encompasses the time period where the infant learns to appreciate the world through his senses. Touch, sight, sound and taste are essential in educating the child about his or her environment. The sensorimotor stage is further subdivided into reflexes, primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of reactions, and tertiary circular reactions. Reflexivity demonstrates the child’s innate tendency to grasp, cry, and suck. Primary circular reaction explains the repetitiveness of certain activities which in turn help pattern habit, namely sucking the thumb or pacifier. The secondary circular reaction alludes to repetition of other actions to elicit a particular response, namely pressing a button which plays music. Coordination of actions shows the child’s delight in doing a recurrent action and the intentionality of the practice such as throwing an object. Tertiary circular reaction is limited to further discovery in provoking and repeating actions and observing their reactions. The preoperational (2-7 years) demarcates the time where the child learns to connect language to signs and symbols and has a broader vocabulary at the disposal for self-expression. “Piaget maintained that cognitive development influences language development, Vygotszky argued that language shapes thought in important ways and that thought changes fundamentally when we begin to think in words” (Sigelman 2009). Therefore, through language, the child can identify objects in front of him/her and refer to them in their absence. Also, the competence to dream and imagine becomes more active as the child still operates by intuition. The child still stumbles in separating fantasy (appearance) and reality.
In sum, the early childhood period is pervaded with activity (both inherent and learned) which contributes to the overall experience. The psychoanalytic, psychosocial, co-constructive and cognitive empower the child to learn and growth in an atmosphere conducive to holistic development. The theories concerning early childhood development to maturity marks the criticality of each stage as the child passes through childhood to adult maturity. These factors also impress the mind of the onus of both parents and teachers in ensuring that kids are provided with the much-needed support and encouragement to learn, make mistakes, and mature. Development is not only the child’s gradual aging, for there are many hindered by many causes and retain a childish outlook; true development comes with active participation and interaction which propels the child to be creative, expressive, and as a result progressive. æ
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