As we grow from an infant into a child, into an adolescent, and finally into an adult, we touch upon five distinct development areas: cognitive, Social & Emotional, Speech & Language, Fine Motor Skills, and Gross Motor Skills. These skills help contribute to our growth into a fully-functioning adult that is independent in society. As parents, you should be encouraging progression in these areas, in and around the home through a range of fun and interesting activities.
All children are different, so the way these areas are targeted should depend on the child in question. One child who enjoys getting their hands dirty, for instance, is going to take better to outdoor activities than a child who prefers to stay clean and indoors. You will know your children better than most, so when considering these activities, try to gently encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.
Cognitive development enables children to understand the world around them and learn to solve puzzles and problems they face. It can also include skills, which can be easily developed through everyday interaction with your child. Practicing the alphabet, singing along together, helping your child identify shapes, noises, and colors, and solving simple problems together are all great ways to encourage and help your child’s cognitive development.
Between the ages of 3 to 5, make sure to talk to your child as you would an adult in terms of the types of words used (rather than topics, 4-year-olds don’t tend to be brushed up on the current state of British politics). Encourage roleplaying and pretend to play in different roles, for example, police, nurse, fireman, and other different helpful and authoritative figures that your child may need to speak to in the future. You can also start to give your child easy to carry out chores, like wiping down the table and tidying away their toys after playtime, in addition to giving them choices to help develop thought patterns and decision-making processes.
Social & Emotional Development
The social and emotional development of a child is significant as it affects their ability to be independent while having confidence in being around and getting along with others. You can encourage your child to be sociable and outgoing from a young age by including them in your conversations and giving praise for saying hello, goodbye, please, and thank you to the people they interact with on a day to day basis.
As an infant, your child should have plenty of face to face interaction and positive reaction to help them feel secure in themselves. As they grow into the toddler stage, parents should start encouraging their children to identify their emotions, especially when they feel frustrated and show signs of an impending tantrum. By identifying and understanding their own emotions, you can then teach your child how to control them through calming techniques. To help your child socially, ensure to keep adult interactions around them positive and using behavior you wish your child to model as they grow up.
Speech & Language Development
Another key point of your child’s development, speech and language affect your child’s ability to communicate clearly with others and understand what is being communicated to them. Singing songs and nursery rhymes are an excellent way to encourage language as your child grows. Reading to and with your child is extremely influencing on a child’s vocabulary and ability to understand.
As your child develops into a toddler and up to the age of 6, you want to keep a narrative going with your child, encouraging them to join in and holding conversations with them. Ask your child to identify toys, make decisions and where possible, give you directions, which you can follow for an activity; this can be as simple as building a tower of blocks, arranging their toys, or even going on a walk.
Fine Motor Skills
The development of your child’s fine motor skills includes using their hands and fingers to grab, pick up, hold on to objects and perform activities like drawing, painting, and completing a puzzle. Sensory and crafting play are fantastic ways to encourage your child’s fine motor skills and can include sand play, water play, using dough or modeling clay, drawing, painting, and playing with toys that include shape sorting and ordering.
A great way to encourage both fine motor skills and cognitive development is to provide your child with a selection of different and random objects; this could include cardboard boxes, fabrics, pots and pans, safe kitchen utensils, and other cheap materials. Then set them out and allow your child to play freely; this can help develop their senses like touch, hearing, and sight while encouraging puzzle-solving, imaginative, and investigation skills.
Gross Motor Skills
Where fine motor skills include the hands and fingers, gross motor skills cover almost all other muscles and muscle groups, although they focus on the main large muscles, such as the abdomen, legs, and back. Free play at a playground or children’s play structure is the best way to help gross motor skills, especially balance, strength, and coordination.
Using the swings helps to develop balance and leg muscles, while climbing can encourage many areas of child development, from self-awareness and problem-solving to directional-awareness and strength. If you don’t have a safe playground near you but do have open space or a garden, playing ball games with your child is a great way to help develop motor skills and coordination, and learning a new sport for your kids can be a fun bonding exercise for you both. You can also enroll your child in a sport’s class or activity, with plenty of options to choose from and specifically available sports classes for toddlers that cater to child development.
While it seems like a lot to take in, most child development happens through interaction and activity with their parents and should be an enjoyable process for you to participate in and have fun. So, don’t stress about ticking all the boxes, but ensure you positively interact with your child regularly, especially from a young age, to give them the best start in life.