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What are the 5 Stages of Child Development?

Children’s experiences in their first five years have been shown to have a significant impact on their developmental outcomes later on. As a result, it is important for parents and those who work with children to understand exactly what happens during these early stages of development. This allows them to meet a child’s needs effectively, and ensure that they have the best start in life.

However, research has shown that only 25% of parents recognise the importance of the first five years; additionally, teacher training does not adequately cover the early years, despite the fact that children are still within this period when they begin school. This lack of awareness on both parts could cause failures to provide the best environments for children, and their progress could be limited.

In order to help you understand the early years, this article will provide guidance on the stages of child development, milestones that children reach within each stage, and how to encourage development. We will also provide further research to show you why this period of life is arguably the most important.

What are the 5 Stages of Child Development?

Development describes the way a child grows, changes, and develops skills – not only physically, but also socially, emotionally, cognitively and communicatively.

Child development can be broken down into five stages:

  1. Newborn (0-3 months)
  2. Infant (3-12 months)
  3. Toddler (1-3 years)
  4. Preschool age (3-4 years)
  5. School age (4-5 years).

At each of these stages, children reach different milestones (also known as ‘characteristics of a stage’. In the next section, we will describe what these milestones are, giving you a general idea of the rate at which children progress.

What are the Characteristics of Child Development Stages?

At each stage of development, children gain skills in four main domains. These domains are:

  • The communication and speech domain. Children have to learn to communicate with everyone around them. As well as learning the language, they learn about taking turns in conversation, and how to categorise the world around them. This can be extremely difficult, and leads to interesting errors; for example, when a child learns that a round object is a ‘ball’, they have to work out if that means everything round is also called a ball. Is the moon a ball, and why not? It takes time to understand what separates one word from another.
  • The physical domain. The body increases in skill and performance over time, going through gross motor development (learning to use large muscles, such as the arms and legs), and fine motor development (learning to use muscles to make precise movements, such as the hands and fingers).
  • The social and emotional domain. Children’s identities, self-images and perceptions of feelings evolve as they grow. They also develop relationships with others, and learn how to socialise and follow social etiquette.
  • The cognitive domain. ‘Cognitive processes’ are higher-level functions of the brain, including thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving. As they develop, children increase their understanding of the world, improve their memory, gain better concentration, and refine their problem-solving skills.
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