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Social Sci LibreTexts

4: Early Childhood

  • Page ID
    10200
  • Learning Objectives: Physical Development in Early Childhood

    • Summarize the overall physical growth
    • Describe the changes in brain maturation
    • Describe the changes in sleep
    • Summarize the changes in gross and motor skills
    • Describe when a child is ready for toilet training
    • Describe sexual development
    • Identify nutritional concerns

    Our discussion will now focus on the physical, cognitive and socioemotional development during the ages from two to six, referred to as early childhood. Early childhood represents a time period of continued rapid growth, especially in the areas of language and cognitive development. Those in early childhood have more control over their emotions and begin to pursue a variety of activities that reflect their personal interests. Parents continue to be very important in the child’s development, but now teachers and peers exert an influence not seen with infants and toddlers.

    • 4.1: Prelude to Early Childhood
      Children between the ages of two and six years tend to grow about 3 inches in height and gain about 4 to 5 pounds in weight each year. Just as in infancy, growth occurs in spurts rather than continually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2000) the average 2 year-old weighs between 23 and 28 pounds and stands between 33 and 35 inches tall. The average 6 year-old weighs between 40 and 50 pounds and is about 44 to 47 inches in height.
    • 4.2: Brain Maturation
      The brain is about 75 % its adult weight by three years of age. By age 6, it is at 95 % its adult weight. Myelination and the development of dendrites continue to occur in the cortex and as it does, we see a corresponding change in what the child is capable of doing. Greater development in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain behind the forehead that helps us to think, strategize, and control attention and emotion, makes it increasingly possible to inhibit emotional outbursts.
    • 4.3: Motor Skill Development
      Early childhood is the time period when most children acquire the basic skills for locomotion, such as running, jumping, and skipping, and object control skills, such as throwing, catching, and kicking. Children continue to improve their gross motor skills as they run and jump. Fine motor skills are also being refined in activities, such as pouring water into a container, drawing, coloring, and buttoning coats and using scissors.
    • 4.4: Toilet Training
      Toilet training typically occurs during the first two years of early childhood (24-36 months). Some children show interest by age 2, but others may not be ready until months later. The average age for girls to be toilet trained is 29 months and for boys it is 31 months, and 98% of children are trained by 36 months (Boyse & Fitzgerald, 2010). The child’s age is not as important as his/her physical and emotional readiness. If started too early, it might take longer to train a child.
    • 4.5: Sleep
      During early childhood, there is wide variation in the number of hours of hours of sleep recommended per day. For example, two year-olds may still need 15-16 hours per day, while a six year-old may only need 7-8 hours.
    • 4.6: Sexual Development
      Historically, children have been thought of as innocent or incapable of sexual arousal. Yet, the physical dimension of sexual arousal is present from birth. However, to associate the elements of seduction, power, love, or lust that is part of the adult meanings of sexuality would be inappropriate. Sexuality begins in childhood as a response to physical states and sensation and cannot be interpreted as similar to that of adults in any way.
    • 4.7: Nutritional Concerns
      Malnutrition is not common in developed nations like the United States, yet many children lack a balanced diet. Added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children and teens in the US. Approximately half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk (CDC, 2015). Caregivers need to keep in mind that they are setting up taste preferences at this age.
    • 4.8: Cognitive Development in Early Childhood
      Early childhood is a time of pretending, blending fact and fiction, and learning to think of the world using language. As young children move away from needing to touch, feel, and hear about the world, they begin learning basic principles about how the world works. Concepts such as tomorrow, time, size, distance and fact vs. fiction are not easy to grasp at this age, but these tasks are all part of cognitive development during early childhood.
    • 4.9 Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development
      Lev Vygotsky argued that culture has a major impact on a child’s cognitive development. Piaget and Gesell believed development stemmed directly from the child, and although Vygotsky acknowledged intrinsic development, he argued that it is the language, writings, and concepts arising from the culture that elicit the highest level of cognitive thinking. He believed that the social interactions with adults and more learned peers facilitates a child’s learning potential.
    • 4.11: Information Processing
      Information processing researchers have focused on several issues in cognitive development for this age group, including improvements in attention skills, changes in the capacity and the emergence of executive functions in working memory. Additionally, in early childhood memory strategies, memory accuracy, and autobiographical memory emerge. Early childhood is seen by many researchers as a crucial time period in memory development (Posner & Rothbart, 2007).
    • 4.12: Attention
    • 4.13: Memory
    • 4.14: Neo-Piagetians
      As previously discussed, Piaget’s theory has been criticized on many fronts, and updates to reflect more current research have been provided by the Neo-Piagetians, or those theorists who provide “new” interpretations of Piaget’s theory. Morra, Gobbo, Marini and Sheese (2008) reviewed Neo-Piagetian theories, which were first presented in the 1970s, and identified how these “new” theories combined Piagetian concepts with those found in Information Processing.
    • 4.15: Children's Understanding of the World
    • 4.16: Language Development
    • 4.17: Preschool
      Providing universal preschool has become an important lobbying point for federal, state, and local leaders throughout our country. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called upon congress to provide high quality preschool for all children. He continued to support universal preschool in his legislative agenda, and in December 2014 the President convened state and local policymakers for the White House Summit on Early Education.
    • 4.18: Autism Spectrum Disorder
      Autism spectrum disorder is probably the most misunderstood and puzzling of the neurodevelopmental disorders. Children with this disorder show signs of significant disturbances in three main areas: (a) deficits in social interaction, (b) deficits in communication, and (c) repetitive patterns of behavior or interests. These disturbances appear early in life and cause serious impairments in functioning (APA, 2013).
    • 4.19 Psychosocial Development in Early Childhood
    • 4.20: Gender
    • 4.21: Parenting Styles
    • 4.22: Sibling Relationships
      Siblings spend a considerable amount of time with each other and offer a unique relationship that is not found with same-age peers or with adults. Siblings play an important role in the development of social skills. Cooperative and pretend play interactions between younger and older siblings can teach empathy, sharing, and cooperation, as well as, negotiation and conflict resolution. However, the quality of sibling relationships is often mediated by the quality of the parent-child relationship.
    • 4.23: Play
    • 4.24: Child Care
    • 4.25: Child Abuse
    • 4.R: Early Childhood (References)