Research suggests that the first five years of a child's life can be pivotal in setting the groundwork for their later physical and emotional development. These fundamental years will be the framework from which their life is built.
Understanding the incremental changes involved in these crucial developmental years, can equip us with the tools to foster positive patterns of behaviour and give them a good start in life.
Learning development begins from the moment of birth. In the first few months of life changes occur in leaps and bounds. Up to two months of age, babies eyes are attracted to light, colours and patterns. It can be disconcerting to find them staring intently at nothing for extended periods of time.
At this age a baby’s only form of communication is crying, which should be responded to. A crossbody baby sling is helpful at this stage, as babies are comforted by the warmth and movement; similar to being in the womb.
A sleep pattern won’t have been formed as yet, which is why new parents are notoriously tired. A predictable sleep routine may not be developed until three to six months of age.
By the end of the first three months baby will have begun to recognise familiar faces and acknowledge and return smiles.
Methods which encourage interaction are:
- Make eye contact often, to assist with bonding.
- Read and talk to baby. It is comforting to hear your voice.
- A gentle massage is a tactile way of relaxing baby.
3 - 6 months
From this point babies become more interactive. Their eyes have become more adept at focussing and they will become increasingly communicative through smiles and facial expression. There will be a close bond with the primary caregiver, as baby cannot yet understand that they are a separate person. They may become stressed and anxious when separated for any period of time.
During this period, some babies will begin rolling from front to back. Between five to eight months, once neck muscles are strong enough, baby may be able to sit with minimal support.
Encourage this developmental phase through:
- Smiling and talking to baby.
- Reading books and singing songs (it's the sound of your voice more than the content at this stage).
- Floor time to encourage baby to strengthen muscles.
- Provide interesting colourful things for them to look at and touch.
By the time baby has reached 12 months they will probably be pulling themselves up on furniture and standing unaided. Some may have began to walk by this point. Don’t be alarmed if your baby is taking a little longer to get moving; babies develop skills at different rates.
Around this age baby may begin to say her first words. By 18 months to two years children’s vocabulary may contain around 50 words but again, don’t panic if this is not the case. Often children know words but haven’t yet articulated them. If your two year old can fetch something when asked, they are understanding speech but may not have discovered the power of using it to its full extent.
Ideas for encouraging toddlers include:
- Read simple books together.
- Have two-way conversations.
- Recite nursery rhymes.
- Sing simple songs.
- Play games together.
Between the ages of three and five, huge changes take place. Curiosity and an innate desire to learn, can mean children are into everything. Questions about their world will become increasingly complex.
Friendships will become more important as children begin to develop empathy, along with a sense of humour.
To foster learning and social growth:
- Arrange for them to spend time with other children.
- Use simple games to teach counting to 20.
- Read books which focus on the alphabet.
- Sing songs together which incorporate hand movements and dance.
It can be tempting for parents to push babies and children to achieve milestones such as sitting, crawling or walking. It is important to understand, that there is a natural progression which needs to occur for healthy mental and physical development, and this shouldn’t be rushed.
Babies who take their time to reach physical milestones may be focussed on other areas of growth, such as speech. The fact is, they all get there in the end. As parents and caregivers we can offer the support and encouragement to help them attain each step of this exciting journey.
If you have any areas of concerns regarding your child’s development, speak with your maternal health clinic or a qualified medical practitioner.