Child development is essential knowledge for everyone working in early years. It makes sense of everything and it enables better practice in supporting children; you know what is right for the child, you understand them and their individual needs, you know how they will flourish and be happy.
Knowledge of the milestones of development and associated theories relating to attachment and behaviour, how children learn, and the process of development are essential to help us understand children, be able to meet their needs and support them on their developmental journey. It is important to remember that whilst all children follow the same pattern of development, they will do so at different rates of progress. Some children might be more advanced in one area than another and usually this will balance out. Some children will spend a long time at one stage e.g. crawling, whilst others will move rapidly to standing and walking.
Every practitioner needs to have confidence in their understanding and knowledge of child development and be able to put it into practice. When I trained at the end of the 1980’s we ate, slept and breathed child development with our Mary Sheridan bible. We completed numerous observations and reflected on what the child was doing with our development knowledge. Gradually our confidence grew, and I remember having a ‘hallelujah’ moment at the beginning of the second year of my NNEB about the purpose of all this and how it worked. It has stayed with me ever since.
I do feel though that currently, in some instances, child development is being watered down and not effectively taught as part of some qualification courses - based on my experience of practitioner knowledge and what leaders and managers tell me.
Returning to my point about knowledge of child development making everything make sense, we can consider in what ways our knowledge supports us in:
· Recognising where children need to go next in their development
· Being able to identify developmental delay
· Understanding why children behave in a certain way or carry out certain actions
· Awareness of the process of development and how skills build up
· What children need to be able to do to complete certain actions or tasks
· Understanding of the awareness of the potential influences on development and their impact
· Ability to see the bigger picture, the whole journey
Child development at times gets a little overlooked with the focus on the EYFS. It is worth noting that the document Development Matters is not child development milestones as such. It is a packaged version, with specific emphasis on certain areas.
So where does all this fit in with the new inspection framework? The new Quality of Education judgment is broken down into 3 areas: intent, implementation and impact. These three can easily be looked at from a child development perspective.
Intent – the milestones of child development that children progress through are a biological process that are supported and influenced by the environment the child is in, their experiences and the adults around them. ‘Intent’ is about reflecting and identifying what you intend to do to support development. As part of this process, you have to consider how you can be sure you are meeting the needs of all children.
Child development is broken down into areas - physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social. All of these areas are interrelated, and each one impacts on the others. For example, intellectual development is about thoughts, ideas and understanding; language development is how to vocalise and articulate these; muscle development in the mouth enables the ability to speak. Development needs to be viewed holistically.
Implementation – how we as adults support all aspects of children’s development through the activities and experiences we provide, our interactions with them, our understanding of them and the nurturing of attachment. How do you differentiate to meet different developmental stages and needs? How do you know that what you are doing/providing is supporting each child’s development?
Impact – recognising if the child is making progress and achieving milestones, and adding to their skills, knowledge and abilities. How do you recognise the milestones have been achieved and what do you do to support children who are not reaching their milestones?
The starting place for practitioners is knowing each of their key children and where they are developmentally, where they need to go next, what they enjoy doing and how best to support their learning and development. This enables a clear understanding of what needs to be provided for their key children and how to best ensure that the continuous provision and any planned activities are meeting needs.
Child development provides an extremely effective background knowledge for our understanding of this view of intent, implementation and impact. This judgement within the inspection framework clearly has definite focuses, and ‘stage of development’ is only mentioned specifically twice - in relation to physical development and children responding to familiar stories, rhymes and songs. It can only be assumed this is because physical development stages/milestones are clear and happen in a way that we can quickly recognise visually. Language development also has clear recognisable stages of development, and the skilful and informed practitioner will be able to use stories, rhymes and songs effectively to support and develop vocabulary. The other areas of development are less obvious and require a deeper understanding.
With regard to mathematical concepts, Ofsted refer to understanding appropriate to a child’s age and stage - every child is different. However, for children to acquire this mathematical knowledge, all practitioners need to be aware of how children learn and most importantly the process of acquiring mathematical knowledge and how understanding at each step has to be consolidated before moving on.
Ofsted might talk about children developing skills and knowledge across the seven areas, but none of that can be forced, it can be supported and helped and only occur when the child is ready. Ready, that is, from a developmental perspective.
It is important to remember that for all children to progress through their developmental milestones there are certain physical needs which have to be met and certain psychological needs, without which it is hard to function properly and therefore develop and learn.
The physical needs are:
· Food and water
· Warmth and clothing
· Fresh air and sunlight
· Activity and rest
· Prevention of illness and injury
The psychological needs are:
· Affection and continuity of care
· A sense of belonging in a familiar environment
· Key attachments
· A sense of self and personal identify, confidence and self esteem
· Knowledge of being valued as an individual
· Opportunity to learn from experience
· Opportunity to succeed and achieve
· Opportunity to be independent
· Opportunity to take responsibility
So, part of our intent for children involves meeting these needs to further facilitate progression and achievement of developmental milestones.
As we consider the implementation it is worth reflecting on patterns of development, what this means for our provision, and how we support this development:
1. Simple to complex – simple actions progress to more complex, e.g. standing to walking, walking to running
2. Head to toe – development of physical control and co ordination begins at the head, moves through the body to the use of arms and hands, to legs and feet and being able to stand.
3. Inner to outer – development progresses from actions near the body to ones further away e.g. a child can reach for an object before they can hold it, they can throw a ball before they can catch it.
4. General to specific – development progresses from general responses to specific ones e.g. thinking there are ‘lots’ to being able to count accurately, or a baby showing pleasure by using their whole body, eyes widening and moving arms and legs while an older child would smile, laugh or speak.
It is also important to remember how intricately linked each area of development is. Once a child can separate from their main carer more opportunities are open to them, and a child with positive self esteem will be confident to try something new. Children who can use language well have more opportunity for social interaction. If one area of development is hampered in any way it will impact on others.
So, to be the most effective we possibly can be in supporting children, perhaps we need to focus more on what we can learn from child development. What can the background theory tell us? How do we recognise milestones in children and support children to develop through them? This will certainly mean our intent, implementation and impact will be effective and successful for each child, enabling them to reach their own potential. Without knowledge and understanding of the why and how of the development, we will be less successful with the why and the how of implementing an effective ‘curriculum’ for the children in our settings.
Edited by Jules