Five Principles of Development in Kids

Although all children are different, there are certain basic principles that can be applied to the way children develop. Understanding how kids develop is helpful in allowing adults to provide the appropriate support to them as they learn and grow. These principles were decided on based on observations of kids along with the experiences of professionals.

Sequence and Rate

Research shows that there are sequences in child development 1. Skills and learning of concepts progress from simple to complex, with kids building on knowledge and skills they acquired previously to make advances. For instance, using this knowledge allows an adult to predict that an infant will first learn to roll over, crawl and sit unassisted before learning to stand, walk and run. While all children will follow these developmental sequences, the rate of development varies from child to child. Similarly, rates of development can vary between different areas within a child’s functioning. For example, a child may have advanced cognitive skills but be behind in development of social and emotional skills.

Importance and Connection of Experiences

The earliest years of a child’s life are the most important in development 1. The experiences a child has during their first years, including the opportunities they are given for learning and growth, will affect their overall development down the road. Positive or negative experiences during critical periods of growth have been shown to have long lasting effects, especially when experiences occur often. For instance, a child who experiences frequent hunger due to lack of family resources during his early years may develop a a habit of over-eating as he grows up, even if he is being adequately fed. The memory of not having enough food to eat previously may cause this child to eat as much as he can whenever food is presented, partially in fear of not getting food later. Furthermore, all areas of a child’s development are related and equally important. Development in one area can effect development in other areas, positively or negatively. Adults should promote development of all domains by providing a range of learning experiences.

Where Development Occurs

Children develop most when they are in a safe environment and have secure relationships with adults.Knowing that parents, relatives, teachers and caregivers are truly concerned about their welfare makes a big difference in children's development. Development and learning also occur in various social and cultural contexts. Family backgrounds, values, religions and socioeconomic status have an influence on how children develop. Friendships and relationships formed with peers and older members of their community also play a role in child development.

Learning Through Play

Children develop and learn best when actively engaged. Being able to explore materials and have first-hand experiences with concepts and skills provides children with opportunities to gather information and begin to reach conclusions. This allows them to better make sense of the world around them. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation and promoting language, cognition, and social competence.” Child-initiated and child-directed play are the most meaningful in terms of promoting development 2.

Providing Challenges

When presented with a new skill or concept, children benefit from being given multiple opportunities to practice what they have learned. Children also develop by being presented with challenging experiences, ones that are just slightly above their current developmental level. Development will occur most when kids achieve success more often than failure. For example, presenting a child who can identify all uppercase letters of the alphabet with the task of matching upper and lowercase letters would be an appropriate challenging experience.While she may not match all of the letters properly, she will have a sense of pride in being able to identify all uppercase letters and use what she knows to make guesses about their lowercase counterparts.

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