The period between 0 and 3 years is probably one of the most influential times for a child’s growth, development, and understanding of life basics. As a rule, older people do not remember the details of their life during these three years. However, the stories of parents, grandparents, and other caregivers help recognize interests and preferences at different stages and improve awareness in such areas as language, physical, personal, social, and emotional development. These experiences also contribute to improving the role of adults in a child’s life and defining the worth of establishing appropriate relationships. In this essay, I will focus on my memories, the stories of my family members, lecture notes, and readings to investigate infant development and become a professional educator in the future. Each stage (0-12, 12-24, 24-36) has certain requirements and recommendations, and adults assess their children to check if they do everything possible to promote their growth adequately. Every child is unique in developing his/her social, cognitive, and physical functions, but there are some common rules defined in different theories like those of Bandura, Piaget, Bronfenbrenner, or Bruner that cannot be ignored.
The first three years of a child’s life are characterized by multiple changes at different levels, including physical, language, and emotional aspects. It is not enough to check if the child is healthy, meaning does not have diseases or disabilities. There are many issues in an infant’s life that parents, doctors, and other caregivers should regularly observe. In this section, I will focus on my understanding of child development and growth during three periods: 0-12, 12-24, and 24-36 months. My parents say that in my first three years, I was a very cooperative and obedient child who liked to socialize with other kids but avoid such “dangerous” activities as climbing in the playgrounds. Using such observations, I could admit that any child should demonstrate changes in several areas, namely language, physical development, and social (personal and emotional) development.
From their birth to one year, children undergo considerable physical changes. Physical activity is a vital characteristic as it helps children build social relationships (Palaiologou, 2016). The inborn reflexes (sucking, swallowing, and breathing) are lost around six months and become “voluntary control behaviors” (Palaiologou, 2016, p. 440). According to Bruner’s theory, physical activity is a part of childhood culture as infants learn by doing something rather than listening to someone (as cited in Palaiologou, 2016). Children do not know how to hold their heads, but this skill is strengthened with time, and they can do it without support for four months. Parents also provide their children with tummy time when they are put on their stomachs to push up and rollover (Jackson & Forbes, 2015). Although children cannot speak since birth, language development refers to gestures and facial expressions (cry, imitation, gurgling). Non-verbal communication helps interpret babies’ needs and establish child-parent bonds (Macintyre, 2012). Between 0 and 12 months, physical, personal, and emotional development is mutually dependent and cannot be separated (Jackson & Forbes, 2015). Children smile, make eye contact, move heads to sounds, and show wariness to strangers.
In the period between 12 and 24 months, children enhance their independence in many activities. For example, it is easy for a child to move into sitting positions, stand-alone, or even take several steps without additional support. It does not take effort to squat, pick up interesting objects, and hold two of them in both hands. Neurological and limbic system development is highly recognized at this stage. Children recognize themselves in mirrors and define their needs and changes, compared to their common conditions (Bruck, 2018). The progress is highly remarkable due to children’s desire to participate in routine activities (dressing, undressing, drinking, eating with a spoon, walking, and running away from caregivers). Independence is promoted through positive relations, and first analytical activities are observed when children cooperate with peers, select objects, and even manipulate (Jackson & Forbes, 2015). It is also important to interact, gain attention in different ways, and show interest in new situations, objects, or people (Early Education, 2012). Communication is improved as children understand and pronounce many simple words, point to named objects, complete tasks from familiar people, and develop explanations by combing several words.
When a child is over two years old, families find it reasonable to start a nursery. I met my secondary carer at 2.5 years, and this transition was difficult because I cried a lot and could not set trustful relationships with strangers. Such behavior can be explained through the prism of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory when a child is affected by the surrounding environment (microsystem) and has to be viewed within the larger environment (O’Connor, 2013). Bandura’s social learning theory can also be applied to this development period because behavioral imitation turns out to be a critical element in children’s interaction (Macintyre, 2012). Being in an unfamiliar environment, the establishment of a kind and supportive relationship helps a child investigate the world and respond, following the offered examples. Children are interested in playing and befriending others, as well as show affection or concern to caregivers (Early Education, 2012). In terms of physical development, children like to jump, scribble, run, and walk upstairs to stay in constant movement and interaction. The vocabulary reaches about 200-300 words and continues expanding, so it is easy for a child to create sentences and verbalize needs.
Taking into consideration the main principles of child development, professional educators must identify the factors that may affect a child’s well-being and progress under different circumstances. Using lectures and personal observations, three areas of development (language, physical, and social) must be considered. Physical development is related to muscle, senses, and neurological changes. Krog (2015) states that children move to investigate their surroundings, thus contributing to sensory-motor system development and learning. Adults have to understand that their participation in children’s discoveries is necessary for safety and engagement promotion. Nutrition, physical exercises (tummy time or mutual games), access to resources (interesting multi-sensory objects), and an environment (enough space that is easy to control) help children stay healthy and active. The development of senses cannot be ignored, and Jackson and Forbes (2015) recommend the Treasure Basket activity when children sit and touch objects from nature, relying on all of their senses. Positive results are observed when parents or other primary caregivers invest time and love by supporting their child, playing together, and spending time outside.
Language development between 0 and 3 years is characterized by the active participation of parents and other caregivers. Children want to express their feelings and emotions but cannot use words properly, so they look for additional sources to imitate and stay motivated. According to Moss (2018), language should not be considered a neutral tool to express or describe reality but a means to contrast reality. Chomsky’s theory proves that all languages are innate and have similar structures and universal grammar. Piaget suggested that learning as a part of cognitive development depends on interaction with the environment (as cited in Nutbrown & Page, 2008). Therefore, environmental influences, parental involvement, and practice are used to develop language skills. Adults should promote communication games, sing songs, talk with rhymes, smile, repeat, and use eye contact to strengthen language comprehension. Listening and attention are the two basic qualities that help children develop. First, infants get used to familiar sounds, then, they follow their exploratory impulses, and finally, they remember words and use them in different contexts. Adults’ responsibility is to follow standards, choose simple phrases, and give illustrative examples, so the child relates concepts.
To support the emotional, social, and personal development of the child, it is recommended to focus on biological and environmental factors. For example, adults should remember that an attachment is a biologically given behavior when children are bonded to at least one person who creates stable and warm relationships (Macintyre, 2012). The limbic system stores experiences and adult responses, participation, and control must be regular either at home or in nurseries to predict the emergence of cortisol (a stress hormone) (Elfer & Dearnley, 2007; O’Connor, 2013). Parents and caregivers are responsible for establishing safe and consistent relationships with their children, including a favorable environment and communication. During the first years of life, children want to know and try as much as possible. Caregivers could explain, show examples, and offer (not impose) help. A child should feel protection and freedom at the same time and understand that there is always a person who supports them. Observations are necessary to see what children can and cannot do to help them develop a plan of action and solve a problem (Nutbrown & Page, 2008). Adults stay close if needed and allow independence if possible.
Understanding adults’ role in a child’s life affects professional educator or caregiver practice in several ways. At the stage of 0-12 months, children are usually restricted in independent movements, and much attention is paid to their observations and attempts. When infants see a stranger, they may cry and demonstrate worries. During this period, I liked smiles and eye contact and cried when I could not see the source of the sound directly. However, some children want to hear voices even without an adult being present nearby. Therefore, it is important to communicate with a primary caregiver and get to know what the child likes and what is better to avoid. Nutbrown (2011) underlines the importance of a well-educated educator who can reflect on their work with children. At stage 12-24 months, it is hard for a secondary caregiver to predict what a particular child may want. I plan to offer children options and have several toys, games, and songs in reserve. I also know that 2-3-year-old children strive for independence, and I have to be patient and give enough time and space to get used to a new environment.
Before taking the courses on early child development, I thought that babies between 0 and 3 years are fragile, innocent, and inexperienced, and caregivers must protect them by any possible means. Now, my opinion has been considerably changed because I have learned how such concepts as freedom, independence, cooperation, support, and understanding contribute to child development. Children have several needs at different stages, and the task is to recognize them, following the offered theories and frameworks by Bandura, Piaget, Bruner, and Bronfenbrenner. Communication with my parents turns out to be another vital source of information because I could learn what strategies work, and which approaches are less effective. There are three main stages in child development between 0 and 3 years, and the major conclusions are to focus on language (verbal and non-verbal), physical activities (individual and collective), and emotions (support and motivation). Children have a list of inborn qualities, reflexes, and needs, and the task of adults is to enhance their progress correctly.
The application of personal reflection in practice when working as an educator of children 0-3 years plays an important role and has certain strengths and limitations. On the one hand, many studies reveal the gap in understanding the impact of teacher-child interactions on child development (Mortensen & Barnett, 2014). Educators spend much time and energy defining many contributing factors in language, social, or physical development. However, there is no evidence that an actual connection exists and determines a child’s progress.
On the other hand, the evaluation of past examples, observation of children with different needs, and communication with parents help see what children can and cannot do at particular stages of their lives. Reflective practice is beneficial due to the establishment of new relationships, meeting new families, learning their traditions, and choosing the most effective approaches for cooperation. There are certain standards in child development, and if an educator is aware of them, it is easy to comprehend infants’ intentions and create favorable environments. I, as a professional educator, should not differentiate children as per their skills, interests, and wiliness to cooperate. My task is to support, motivate, and provide resources to all children equally.
Children aged 0-12 months undergo several changes in terms of their sensory development. They learn new sights, smells, sounds, and objects that can be touched or tasted. Movement patterns are used to explore the environment and, as Jackson and Forbes (2015) define it, promote “thought in action” (p. 67). In Piaget’s theory, this period is described as the sensorimotor stage when infants investigate the world through movements and their basic actions (sucking, looking, and grasping). To support sensory exploration, adults hang colorful mobiles, provide children with rattles, sing, and play to encourage safe interaction. These activities are important for babies because they learn as much as possible, using the offered subjects and conditions. With age, children can sit and play with objects in natural social settings, which is supported by Dewey’s theory of learning by doing. Heuristic play sessions like playing with sand or water are used to see and try the properties of objects in the real world.
Some parents find it necessary to develop mathematical skills in their children from a young age. They believe that such early contributions help improve their attention and insight. Franzén (2015) admits that the preschool environment is full of mathematical elements that can enhance the development of calculating abilities in children, namely toys, books, pillows, and building blocks. However, instead of imposing education through play, teachers should observe what children do and meet their initiative and interests by helping in answer search.
The development of literacy skills is an integral part of children’s growth because all knowledge is obtained from everyday activities. It is not necessary to teach children to discover some literacy improvements. In many cases, it is enough to pay much attention to communication, mutual tasks, and observations. According to Anning and Edwards (2006), literacy is not only reading or writing activities but a combination of all possible skills and abilities in a child, including the information obtained from television, games, comics, etc. Children from 2 to 3 years learn language through hearing stories or when parents or teachers talk to them. First analytical steps are taken through an exploration of books and other illustrative material. Therefore, the main ideas for adults to support literacy development are to talk, ask questions, give answers, pay attention to changes in the environment, and sing songs together.
Anning, A., & Edwards, A. (2006). Promoting children’s learning from birth to five: Developing the new early years professional. McGraw-Hill Education.
Franzén, K. (2015). Under three’s mathematical learning. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 23(1), 43-54. Web.
Jackson, S., & Forbes, R. (2015). People under three: Play, work and learning in a childcare setting (3rd ed.). Routledge.