The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.
Putting Child Development in Perspective…
As the inexperienced mom of a six month old, I was thrilled when my sister-in-law, Shannon, invited me to join my first playgroup. The boys and girls ranged in age from about six to eighteen months, and in kid years, that’s a pretty big spread! Spending time with children of this age range allowed me to witness a wide span of behaviors and competencies.
It was easy to observe that children do not develop, grow or mature at the same rate. There were children in the group who walked as early as nine months and others, my daughter included, who did not walk until close to fourteen months. By eighteen months, however, every child in the group was off and running. Because of my background in education, I wasn’t too anxious when McKenna Kate took her time to learn to walk. She is a very deliberate child, one who closely observes and evaluates her surroundings. I can never get away with grabbing an extra cookie or skipping a page of her favorite book when she is watching! I believe she was just taking her own sweet time to walk. Even with teaching and administrative experience, however, I can relate to any parent’s pang of concern when their child does not hit a specific developmental milestone at the same time as his siblings or other children.
Now that I have two children, I have been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow and develop at their own pace. Coincidentally, Mac walked at almost the same age as McKenna Kate. However, he developed a desire to be read to at age two, much earlier than she did. In fact, McKenna Kate did not enjoy being read to, nor did she exhibit the desire to write her name until she was close to four. In a nutshell, children travel through a myriad of ages & stages as they grow and mature. It’s a gift that no two children are exactly alike when it comes to their development, not even twins. It’s their way of saying, “Look out world, I’m my own person!”
The History of Kindergarten
German philosopher and teacher, Friedrich Froebel, originally conceived Kindergarten in the 1800s. The direct translation from German to English is “children’s garden.” He saw it as, literally, a place to fill with plants and flowers and nurture children’s curiosity. It was not meant to be a functional classroom. My, how times have changed! And, with many children beginning their formal school experience at an even younger age, our societal expectations of what a child should grasp have increased drastically. Last time I checked, however, the human brain was quite the same.
Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age. What???
Children actually possess two ages- one chronological and one developmental. A child’s chronological age is easy to determine…just check the calendar for his birthday! Determining a child’s developmental age? Well, that is much more complex.
A child’s developmental age can be determined by evaluating several areas of development- academic, social, emotional and physical. Children enter and exit different stages of development approximately every six months from birth-six and then about every year from age six until they reach adult maturity. This may explain why your extremely cooperative 4 year old begins to defy and mystify you with his knack for answering “NO!” to everything you ask of him when he hits 4 ½.
Assessing each of the four areas is a reliable method teachers and administrators use to determine a child’s developmental age and whether or not he is ready for school. Combining the developmental age of a child in each of these areas allows educators to come up with an average age at which the child is functioning as a “whole person.”
To illustrate, a 5 year old child may possess a developmental age of 5 for social, 5 ½ for emotional, 4 ½ for academic and 5 ½ for physical. Looking at it in simple terms, this child’s developmental age is roughly 5 years of age. In other words, the child is functioning as a “whole person” at a 5 year old expectation level. I understand that it may be a bit confusing, but parents need to understand that while their child may exhibit a strength in one area, he may lag a bit behind in another area. That is typical, as most children do not exhibit the same developmental age in all areas at any one time. Remember, children are individuals and will follow their own timeline. This is why it is paramount that teachers and parents work together to give children well-rounded opportunities for development. This is also why it is never good for a school program to focus on any less than all four areas of the developmental sphere.
A Little About the Importance of Early Childhood Education
It is important for parents to understand how children advance from one developmental stage to the next. Lev Vygotsky, a foremost expert in the field of psychology and child development, purports that people move through the stages of development by scaffolding, or building upon information previously learned through personal experience and formal/informal instruction.
In order for children to be able to apply previously learned information to new encounters, they must first take in said information through a host of different experiences. For example, children learn what a farm is through the following avenues:
- having a teacher or parent read to them about farms,
- learning about the animals that live on a farm,
- becoming familiar with the items one might find on a farm (tractor, barn, crops),
- by looking at photos of these items,
- by watching “Charlotte’s Web” or another movie that takes place on a farm,
- by visiting a farm, and
- by milking a cow and smelling the scent of hay.
It’s nearly impossible to teach a student what a farm is by simply explaining it to him without pictures, props, books, vocabulary and, above all, personal experience. Strong teachers are well versed in what is considered age appropriate for all aspects of student development and are trained to provide students with opportunities and experiences that support the current developmental stage that child is in at the time. Teachers also present new, more advanced material to encourage students to move to the next developmental stage.Parents can also work with their child at home to prepare him for a successful school experience at any age and stage.
In my blog post tomorrow, I will continue this discussion by presenting a list of developmental milestones by age group. This list, while not exhaustive of all behaviors for each age, can give parents a solid snapshot of what their child may experience at a particular developmental age. I will also go into more detail regarding how parents can work with their child’s teacher to make a strong assessment regarding their child’s readiness level for Kindergarten.