The following essay will examine factors that affect a child’s learning and development. All children are distinctive individuals and differ in pattern and timing of maturation, as well as individual personality, learning style, cultural and family background. Each child has its own varying strengths, weaknesses, specific needs and skills. The age of a child is an effective indicator to the sequence of stages of development; however, it is only an estimation of maturation, as the mentioned independent factors will differ from child to child. The stages of development in children aged one to five years include the prenatal period, infancy, toddler stage, and early childhood and cover a plethora of progress in all areas of development. Expected changes in growth take place in all areas of development, particularly in the early years, and these include physical, intellectual, language, emotional, and social development.
The first five years of life are crucial for expanding the foundations for learning and development. Research has shown that the developing child is learning to discover, communicate, and extend ideas about how things work. The successful progress of these abilities and skills depend largely on a child’s early environment. Parents, teachers, and care providers promote development and learning when they provide experiences that build on and extend the child’s capabilities. However, it is clear from evidence on both sides of the argument that development and learning result from a contribution of both biological factors and environmental factors. Empiricists believe environmental influences shape learning and development, while nativists emphasise inborn, genetic characteristics influence development (Bee, 2006b). Development could be described as an interactive relationship between the inherited qualities of an individual and the external environment.
A child’s emotional and social development is shaped by internal influences, for example, a child may be inherently shy or outgoing, however the environment will also influence the child’s social and emotional development, such as successful first relationships, cultural values and how family and peers interact with the child, i.e. the child’s immediate social environment. Cognitive development could be influenced by internal factors. Research has shown that teratogens (legal or illegal drugs), smoking, alcohol consumption can have adverse affects on cognitive development (Bee, 2006 a). A study by Monuteaux, (2006) shows the negative effects of smoking on the development of a child, and there is speculative study that maternal diet and smoking could be causal factors of ADHD (Bakker, 2003). Scarr (1983) summarises the internal and external influences on children’s development, “Both genes and environments are constituents in the developmental system, but they have different roles. Genes direct the course of human experience, but experiential opportunities are also necessary for development to occur” (Scarr, 1983, pp. 433).
It is interesting to consider cognitive development in children and the subsequent affect on learning and behaviour. Piaget was an influential Swiss psychologist who researched cognitive development. Piaget believes cognitive development transpires through a combination of direct experience from one’s environment and an instinctive structure of biological maturation.
Piaget suggested individuals are born with intellect to serve as a basic function that assists adaptation to their environment (Shaffer, 1989). His theory proposes that development proceeds through a set of four stages from infancy to adulthood. Piaget believed that the first stage of cognitive development is the sensorimotor stage; this occurs in the first two years of a child’s life and involves infants using motor skills and all the senses, sight, smell, touch etc to explore and gain an understanding of the environment. Preoperational stage progresses from the...
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