Throughout this class we have studied the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional developmental stages of early childhood, and we considered the interplay between these domains. We have explored and discussed attachment, disabilities, language acquisition, stressors, trauma, technology, and the importance of play. We observed infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. This paper will summarize some of the main insights that I have gained throughout this course.
One of the things that surprised me with regard to child development is the extent of the biological influence of the father onto the child (Saey, 2008). Scientists have determined that substances can affect the sperm and contribute to genetic abnormalities. One example that was given was research on male mice that had been given cocaine, and their offspring had difficulty learning and remembering. Research shows that the effect from males can go on for several generations. This was interesting as mothers are the ones who are always warned of their influence on the health of their unborn babies, but fathers never receive similar warnings (Saey, 2008).
Another thing that I had previously been unaware of is the importance of synchrony (Berger, 2012). I was aware of the term in regards to music, but not in reference to childhood. Brazelton has long been a favorite of mine, and I watched his shows faithfully as a young mother. He highly encouraged mothers to look into the face of their infants, speak to them, and imitate the infants’ expressions. I was not aware that professionally he characterized that as “moving in synchrony” (Tronick & Weinberg, 1997). I never realized that this could encourage development in the baby, especially in brain development through the production of neurotransmitters. Where this is neglected and there is a lack of responsiveness on the part of the caregiver, the effect on the baby’s development is negative (Tronick & Weinberg, 1997). Knowing this should encourage those of us who work with infants to look into each baby’s face and respond regularly. This aids in the child’s development, and can even be a source of healing if the child is neglected or abused (Tronick & Beeghly, 2011).
One other thing that I gained from this coursework with regards to child development is the benefit of art for developmental growth (Herr, 2012). To encourage healthy development, we can supply ample materials, and have open-ended and child-directed art sessions. With small children, we need to keep in mind that it is the process of art that is important rather than the outcome. We should urge the children to explore, choose our comments carefully, and display their work to encourage them (Itzkowitz, 2013). Art is a fun way for the children to spend time, and it also encourages their healthy development, creativity, and imagination.
Additionally, in regards to child development, I was impressed with my observation at the Montessori school and the level of responsibility and respect that was given to the students. It was so interesting that the teacher never called out students on misbehavior; rather she chose to redirect them privately. The students were able to choose their work, and go at their own pace with guidance, which is optimal for development (Worth Publishers, 2002b). I found it to be a healthy, supportive, accepting, and accommodating environment (Snow, 2003-2009).
One insight that I had relating to global awareness is the stressor of poverty. Economic conditions are significant as “poverty is becoming more and not less an issue” (Smidt, 2013, p.12). Underdeveloped countries have a high mortality rate, education and health care are generally lacking, and children are often made to work. One aspect regarding the issue of economy is that parenting is often discriminatory based on the “monocultural, over-simplified and Western model” (Smidt, 2013, p. 15). I discovered that I need to be aware of any subconscious, underlying biases I might have, making assumptions that the people with lower means are not as good at parenting (Smidt, 2013, p.15).
A topic that I had assumptions about and which changed due to my study in this course had to do with a statement by Dr. Gopnik. I had not realized and am guilty of getting frustrated with young children for not focusing. Gopnik stated that young children are not able to focus on one thing because their development in their prefrontal lobe is not yet mature enough (Laureate Education, 2010a). Realizing that they are not being disrespectful, they are simply unable to focus due to brain development, helps me to be much more understanding and enjoy their distractions rather than push them to focus (Laureate Education, 2010a).
I also found it interesting when Gopnik suggested that one of the reasons that it took so long for us to understand the cognitive abilities of babies is that until then women were the caretakers, and men were the researchers (Laureate Education, 2010a). In the 1970’s, women started to become researchers as well. It was then that women began to be accepted into the research fields. Gopnik also makes the point that technological changes began and rather than subjective beliefs, objective findings were possible with videotaping (Laureate Education, 2010a).
I found Dr. Gopnik’s following statement encouraging:
“I think one of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to think about children as if they are little grown-ups, not to recognize the differences between the way that children are functioning and adults. And sometimes, even, people think about children as if they were sort of defective adults, as if the point of childhood was to try to create an adult as quickly as you could” (Laureate Education, 2010b).
People often talk about children as if they are a bother, and often we do not appreciate childhood for the wonderful time that it is. I grew up hearing the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard.” When I became an adult, I thought that was a terrible concept. Children are fragile and need to be gently nurtured and cared for, as do delicate flowers in a beautiful garden. Dr. Gopnik shared that the longer that you have studied something, the more beautiful and fascinating it can become (Laureate Education, 2010b). I have found this to be true of my classes so far. I have become even more intrigued with all there is to learn and discover about young children. I have been exposed to more than I had imagined that I would, and I am looking forward to the future courses.
Berger, K. S. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers
Herr, J. (2012). Working with young children 7th ed.). Tinley Park, Ill: Goodheart-Wilcox Publishers.
Itzkowitz, S. (2013). Valuing children’s expression: A first attempt at displaying preschool art in an early childhood centre. McGill Journal of Education, 48(2). Retrieved from http://www.erudit.org/revue/mje/2013/v48/n2/1020979ar.pdf
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010a). A conversation about child development [Course media]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010b). Studying Child Development: Lessons Learned [Course media]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Saey, T. H. (2008). Dad’s hidden influence. Science News, 173(13). 200-201.
Smidt, S. (2013). The developing child in the 21st century: A global perspective on child development (2nd Ed). New York: Routledge.
Snow, K. (2003-2009). Redefining disability. Retrieved from http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/images/PDF/redefindis.pdf
Tronick, E., & Beeghly, M. (2011). Infants’ meaning-making and the development of mental health problems. American Psychologist, 66(2), 107.
Tronick, E.Z. & Weinberg, M.K. (1999). Depressed mothers and infants: Failure to form dyadic states of consciousness. Postpartum depression and child development, 54.
Worth. (Producer). (2002a). The journey through the life span: Early childhood [DVD]. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Worth. (Producer). (2002b). The journey through the life span: Middle childhood [DVD]. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.