Infancy and Early Childhood Development
Early childhood, encompassing infancy and the preschool years, is a crucial time in human development. From birth to approximately age 5 or 6, children undergo remarkable cognitive, social, emotional, and physical changes that lay the foundation for later development (Berk, 2013). During these early years, children rapidly develop foundational skills and capacities, including the ability to think, speak, learn, reason, and interact with others (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016).
Cognitive Development in Infancy and Early Childhood
Cognitive development refers to how a child’s brain develops and acquires the ability to think, learn, solve problems, and gain an understanding of the world (Berk, 2013). Several important cognitive milestones occur during infancy and early childhood:
Object permanence – The understanding that objects continue to exist even when out of sight, which typically develops between 8-10 months (Berk, 2013).
Pretend play – Engaging in pretend or symbolic play such as pretending a stick is a horse around age 2. Pretend play indicates a child can distinguish fantasy from reality (Berk, 2013).
Executive function – Skills such as working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility that allow children to plan, focus attention, and juggle multiple tasks. Executive function develops rapidly from ages 3 to 5 (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016).
Language Development in Early Childhood
Language development is another area of remarkable growth during the early childhood years. Important language milestones include:
Babbling – Vocalizing consonant and vowel sounds without meaning around 6 months of age (Berk, 2013).
First words – Producing first meaningful words usually between 12-18 months (Berk, 2013).
Telegraphic speech – Using two-word phrases like “more milk” between 18-24 months as grammar skills emerge (Berk, 2013).
Conversation skills – Engaging in back-and-forth conversation with others emerges between ages 2-3 as vocabulary and grammar continue expanding (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016).
Social and Emotional Development
Key social and emotional developments during infancy and early childhood include:
Attachment – Forming strong emotional bonds with primary caregivers which help children feel safe exploring their environment (Berk, 2013).
Self-awareness – Recognizing oneself in mirrors and understanding basic emotions in others around 18 months (Berk, 2013).
Empathy – Showing concern for others’ feelings and helping behaviors emerge between ages 2-5 (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016).
Emotion regulation – Gaining skills to manage upsetting feelings with adult support and modeling (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016).
Physical Growth and Motor Development
Rapid physical growth and motor skill acquisition occur from birth through age 5 as well. Major physical milestones include:
Rolling over – Occurring around 5-6 months as infants gain stronger neck and trunk muscles (Berk, 2013).
Crawling – Emerging around 8 months as infants mobilize on hands and knees (Berk, 2013).
Walking – Taking first steps independently between 10-14 months (Berk, 2013).
Fine motor skills – Grasping, transferring objects between hands, and using utensils emerge between ages 2-5 (Berk, 2013).
In summary, infancy and early childhood lay the groundwork in multiple domains as children’s brains and bodies develop at a remarkable pace. Supportive caregiving helps foster healthy development during these foundational years.
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2016). From best practices to breakthrough impacts: A science-based approach to building a more promising future for young children and families. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2007). The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture: Working paper no. 5. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Zero to Three. (2016). DC: 0-5 – Diagnostic classification of mental health and developmental disorders of infancy and early childhood. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
Infancy and Early Childhood Development