STAGES OF INFANT DEVELOPMENT

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1 Ages & Stages of Infants Cognitive Development Although nature provides infants with the necessary ingredients for brain development, optimal development relies upon experiences. Albrecht and Miller (2001) contend, Children gain coordination of fine and gross motor skills by repeating the patterns of those skills over and over again, strengthening the communication and coordination between neurons. Babies who do not have experiences on the floor, moving their bodies, reaching and batting at objects, picking up many different objects., etc., may not receive enough stimulating experiences to increase synaptic coordination and communication. (p. 255) Infants also need to receive cues from the adults around them. When a baby interacts with her environment, she elicits certain reactions from adults. When those reactions are positive (e.g., exclamations of pride and wonder), the child is much more likely to repeat the actions, thus gaining valuable knowledge and strengthening neural pathways with the repetition. When the cues are verbal (e.g., You re clapping your hands! ), language development is also promoted. To promote visual tracking, provide the infant with bright, colorful objects to watch. Finger puppets or a brightly colored sock placed on your hand can gain and keep the infant s attention. Slowly move your hand up and down, in circles, and to the right and left. Blow bubbles for the baby to watch (making sure the bubbles are far enough away so they don t pop in baby s face). When the baby is old enough, encourage him to reach for the bubbles or any other object of desire you place above him. Always, use language with the child, describing what you re doing and what he s doing or seeing. Play sound games with babies. Shake a rattle or other noise producing object above the baby s head or to her side, encouraging her to locate the sound. To help develop object permanence, partially hide a favorite toy under a blanket or piece of material. The baby will learn to pull at the part of the toy that s visible and will eventually know to remove the blanket completely in order to find the toy. 1

2 There s nothing like the tried and true game of peekaboo to help a child begin to see herself as a separate individual. It also makes babies laugh! Once the baby is familiar with this game, you can move on to Where s teacher? Begin by placing your hands over your face, just as you would with peekaboo. Later, hide your whole self behind a piece of furniture, asking, Where s teacher? You then pop up, answering, Here s teacher! To encourage crossing the midline of the body, hand the baby desirable items in such a way that she has to reach across her body to retrieve them from you. Later, when the baby is crawling and creeping, place a favorite stuffed animal or other preferred object on the floor, just out of reach, encouraging her to go get it. Games like patty cake have lasted through the years because they work so well with infants. These games offer opportunities for social interaction, imitation, touch, and rhythmic awareness as well as yet another chance for baby to hear your voice. While playing, encourage the child to imitate your facial expressions, giving her labels such as sad and happy. Because babies love both music and being held, you should cradle the infant in your arms and dance at every opportunity. The baby will find this soothing and enjoyable. In addition, you ll be creating rhythmic awareness and a sense of security. 2

3 in their company. However, you shouldn t expect them to share at this point. According to Albrecht and Miller (2001), caregivers should be aware that very young children have limited skills in controlling impulses, delaying gratification, using expressive language, entering play, reading social cues, and regulating emotions (p. 129). Thus, much adult facilitation is required in social interactions between and among babies. Infants Motor Development Infants Social/Emotional Development As with cognitive development, experience and repetition are critical to the child s developing selfconcept and ability to relate to others. When the newborn is cuddled, tickled, rocked, and held, the result is a sense of security. Later, as he begins to realize he can have an impact on his environment (e.g., eliciting a smile in response to one of his own), he develops a sense of confidence and a belief that he can make things happen. Playing also contributes to this self confidence. When an infant fits a small object into a larger one, she begins to discover cause and effect. As she pushes a toy ahead of her as she walks, she feels a sense of mastery. All of this affects emotional development. During the first month of life, motor activity is primarily reflexive, with such reflexes as sucking, swallowing, yawning, blinking, and eliminating being present at birth. As the central nervous system matures, intentional, purposeful behavior begins, and the infant becomes able to lift her head and upper body on her arms while lying facedown. While lying faceup, she can hold her head up at about 4 months of age. She also moves from reaching for objects with both arms (between 4 and 8 months) to reaching with one hand or the other (between 8 and 12 months). Other significant milestones between the ages of 4 and 8 months include the ability to sit with only the arms propped in front for support, getting into a creeping position by raising up on the arms and drawing the knees up under the body, and rolling over from front to back and the reverse. Playing with or near others also promotes social development. Although not yet able to play together, babies are fascinated by other babies (and by children in general) and do enjoy playing 3

4 When the baby is able to sit unassisted, make him comfortable on the floor with his legs apart. Then sit opposite him in a similar manner and roll a large, brightly colored ball toward him. Describe what you re doing as you encourage him to push it back toward you. Play music that infants can bounce to while they hold on to furniture. The natural assumption is that until an infant is at least able to creep, movement experiences are severely limited. However, this assumption is not necessarily so. Babies can move in many ways (e.g., kicking, reaching, rolling over) without actually transporting themselves from place to place. Babies should also enjoy many physical experiences (e.g., visual tracking) in preparation for later movement activities. During this premobile period, babies should be offered many sensory experiences. Their environments should consist of objects of different colors, sizes, and shapes that they can see and feel. They also need the opportunity to hear different sounds, such as voices talking, whispering, and singing; noises created by themselves or others, such as keys being rattled or pots and pans being struck with wooden spoons; and music of varying textures and rhythms. Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) instituted its Back to Sleep campaign to reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), babies have spent too much time on their backs. (Parents and providers seem to have forgotten that the second part of the campaign slogan is Tummy to Play. ) As a result, many children are experiencing flat head syndrome; weak arm, neck, shoulder, and trunk muscles; and delays in developmental milestones like rolling over, crawling, pulling up to stand, and walking, Therefore, perhaps of greatest importance for the developing infant is tummy time. Being on his tummy will at first encourage experimentation with lifting his head and with rolling from his tummy to his back and the reverse. Later, tummy time will offer opportunities for crawling and creeping, which are both so essential to his ability to cross the midline of his body and to increase communication between the left and right sides of his brain. Between 6 and 12 months comes the onset of crawling and then creeping the child s first real form of locomotion. Also during this period, the baby begins to pull herself up to a standing position and then standing alone while using the furniture for support. She can also walk with adult support. Between 12 and 18 months the baby walks unassisted. Once able to transport himself in this manner, he enjoys pushing, pulling, and carrying objects while walking. Of course, once the child is mobile whether via creeping 4

5 or toddling the number one consideration is safety. You must do everything possible to prevent tumbles and falls and the exploration of such unsafe objects as cleaning materials, balloons, and items small enough to swallow. STAGES OF INFANT DEVELOPMENT 5

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