Early Childhood Development: The First 2 YearsApr 18, 2017
This month early childhood professionals celebrate “Week of the Young Child” (WOYC), sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The purpose is to raise awareness of the needs of young children and their families – and to celebrate those who work diligently to provide the very best for all children.
Early learning and development have far-reaching implications for future families, the economy, the political climate, and international relations. Crazy to think that what you do each day in child care has that kind of implication, but it does!
To bring this point home, the following are five really important things that happen ONLY in the first few years of life, when nearly 11,000,000 children in the US are being cared for by child care professionals.
The Crucial First 2 Years
In the first 2 years of life, children…
- NEED to move. So their muscles and bones and brains will grow properly. According to one study, the average toddler takes around 176 steps each minute. Big play, where children can run, spread out, climb, spin, crawl around, and use their whole body to move promotes physical development, coordination, and learning. Even our tiniest babies need tummy time every day to flex those core muscles and support physical development. Floortime is the best way to play, talk, sing, read and explore objects, so get down there and hang out with the babies.
- NEED secure attachments. So they will have healthy relationships later in life. Yep, it’s true. Responding to cries, being attuned to a baby’s emotions, feeding, changing diapers, snuggling, and playing ‘get your belly’… all these things create attachment. And years down the road when a child is ready to enter a committed relationship with someone, she will need the ability to trust that is foundational to emotional intimacy.
- NEED to be spoken to. So they can learn to speak a language (or two). We are born with the ability to learn any language – the door on the language center of the brain is wide open in the first years of life and then those neurons that are not used are pruned away. That’s why young children can easily learn more than one language but why do grownups have to work much harder to learn a new language. Toddlers add new words to their spoken vocabulary at the rate of one every two waking hours. By age 6, a child understands about 13,000 words. And children who get to learn more than one language in early childhood have improved cognitive development. The best interactions between child and adult include a minimum of 3-5 back-and-forths.
- NEED good nutrition. So they can have normal rates of growth. If we continued to grow at the same rate throughout childhood as we do in the first year we would all be giants! By 12 months, an infant’s weight triples, and height doubles. If our bodies grew at the same rate as their brains, they would weigh 170 lbs. by one month of age. Neural connections (synapses) grow from 2,500 per neuron to 15,000 per neuron in the first two years. Poor nutrition, stress and not getting enough rest has a significant effect on physical growth. And guess what? Flavor preferences learned in infancy last for years, so try lots of different foods!
- NEED to try and try again. So they can learn resilience. Resilience is the practice of ‘sticking to it that is a vital part of cognitive development. When we have high expectations of a child’s ability to succeed (whether stacking blocks or finding the toy that you’ve hidden under a blanket), we communicate they are capable, independent, and able to make things happen on their own. This responsiveness attributes to a child’s resilience. If we do things for them in a moment of frustration, we can inadvertently cause them to be dependent on adults for problem-solving. And that’s not helpful to anyone! Instead, it’s better to patiently show them how to do the task and wait for them to figure out on their own how to be successful.
Keep these things in mind if you ever doubt the importance of your work and be ready to tell others all about it, especially this month.
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