The Physical Development of the Young Child
Take a moment and think about a newborn infant–at birth, human infants are, essentially, completely vulnerable and helpless. Unlike many animals, they cannot walk, consume solid food, or manage even the most basic tasks for their own survival. This is the price we pay for our brains–we are born far less developed than many creatures. Over the course of a very short time, around two years, that helpless newborn learns to walk and talk, to manipulate objects, to engage and participate in the world around her.
This transition from a helpless newborn to a toddler or preschooler requires massive amounts of learning, fueled by rapid brain growth, sensorimotor development, and physical growth. The infant, from birth, uses his ability to perceive to learn and develop an understanding of the world around him.
TOPICS COVERED WILL INCLUDE:
- Brain development during infancy and toddlerhood at the larger level of the cerebral cortex.
- Learning through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, habituation and recovery, and imitation.
- Dynamic Systems theory of motor development, highlighting cultural variations in motor development.
- Gibsons’ Differentiation Theory of perceptual development.
The Development of the Brain
Brain development in the first two years of life is fascinating and awe-inspiring. Most of the physical growth of the brain occurs during the first two years of life. Neuroscience has shed light on the development of neurons and the cerebral cortex in particular. At birth, infants have approximately one hundred billion neurons. Relatively few neurons will be produced after birth. The newborn’s neurons are connected only tentatively. In the first years, essential connections between neurons form. Combined with understanding sensitive periods and the role of the environment, we have a much clearer picture of what is happening in the infant and toddler brain today than ever before.
Development of Neurons
Neurons are nerve cells in the brain that store and transmit information. In total, the human brain has between 100 to 200 billion of these neurons.
- Neurons send messages from one to another through tiny gaps, called synapses. These messages travel on chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Development of the Cerebral Cortex
The cerebral cortex is the portion of the brain we think of when we hear the word brain. The other parts of the brain are the cerebellum and the brain stem. These parts of the brain are responsible for a number of physical functions, but not for thought, learning and memory. It accounts for approximately 85 percent of the total weight of the brain. In appearance, it looks like a wrinkled half walnut. The cerebral cortex is the last part of the brain to stop growing and it is significantly more sensitive to environmental conditions than other parts of the brain.
The cerebral cortex is divided into four parts, called lobes. Each of the brain’s lobes is associated with particular functions.
- Frontal lobe
- Parietal lobe
- Temporal lobe
- Occipital lobe
RIGHT VERSUS LEFT BRAIN
Sensitive Periods in Brain Development
Brain development in children is often quite sensitive to a variety of factors. In some cases, trauma, lack of care or the absence of appropriate support may limit the child’s abilities to grow and develop properly. While scientific studies on children pose a number of ethical questions, animal studies and observation of children have confirmed the existence of periods of increased sensitivity for proper brain development. During these periods, the physical, cognitive and social or emotional development of children can be slowed or damaged.
- A lack of adequate environmental stimulation is the most likely cause of damage in these situations. Inadequate environmental stimulation stalls the proper development of the prefrontal cortex. This will reduce the child’s impulse control, cognition and emotional control, both positive and negative. In today’s world, these situations are often associated with abusive or neglectful parenting, or, in some cases, with orphanage care.
Physical Aspects of Brain Development
- PHYSICAL ASPECTS
- SLEEP-WAKE CYCLE
Brain development is not just a social and cognitive process, but also a physical one. This is evidenced in a number of ways, including the changing states of arousal, or sleep-wake cycle, associated with infancy and toddlerhood.
Evidence of learning is present from the moment of birth. The built-in capacities of learning through conditioning, interest in that which is novel and unusual, and imitation are particularly powerful. Our increasing understanding of mirror neurons is particularly exciting for better understanding learning in infancy.
Learning is a word you’re already familiar with–can you define it? Infant learning is defined as changes in behavior as a result of experience. Babies are born with the ability to learn, as well as with some innate reflexes.
- Rooting reflex
- Sucking reflex
- Moro (Startle) reflex
- Tonic neck reflex
- Grasping reflex
- Babinski reflex
- Step reflex
Classical conditioning builds upon the infant’s innate reflex, or spontaneous and inborn behavioral patterns. Human infants are born with seven different reflexes. At birth, these are the primary driving forces for the infant’s behavior and movement. Conscious control of the body is not present at birth.
For instance, if you put a nipple or finger in a newborn’s mouth, the baby will suckle; however, over the first few weeks, the baby will improve his ability to suckle, feeding more effectively. This is one of the earliest examples of learning.
Infants learn, in the earliest stages of their development, through classical conditioning. Classical conditioning suggests that when you pair a stimulus and the reflex or natural, unconscious response it induces with a neutral stimulus, eventually, the neutral stimulus will be associated with the response. This is process of neural development.
INFANT CONNECTS TWO STIMULI
APPLICATION TO BEDTIME ROUTINES
ENHANCED BY REGULAR AND RELATED TO SURVIVAL
Infants also learn through operant conditioning, or instrumental conditioning. Operant conditioning links behavior to reward or punishment. Operant conditioning is linked to the work of B.F. Skinner and is a form of behaviorism. Positive reinforcement is the introduction of a positive consequence to behavior. Negative reinforcement is the removal of an unwanted consequence. Punishment can also be positive or negative. A positive punishment introduces an unwelcome or unpleasant consequence. A negative punishment removes a positive consequence.
- Take a moment to think about toys for infants. Many of them have lights, sounds or other interactive features. When the baby hits or grabs the toy, the sound plays or the toy lights up. This acts as positive reinforcement for the baby’s actions, so he repeats the action to hear the sound again. This is an example of operant conditioning.
- HABITUATION BEHAVIORS
The human brain is naturally programmed to prefer novel or new experiences. New sights and sounds often entertain and engage infants. Over time, habituation occurs. Habituation is gradual decline in strength of response with repeated stimulation denoting loss of interest in the stimulus over time. Habituation is measured by a decrease in time spent looking or interacting, as well as reduced heart beat and respiration.
Infants are born with a primitive ability to mimic or imitate the actions of those around them, including head and hand motions. Some of these motions, or gesture, appear in many different cultures around the world.
ABILITY TO IMITATE INCREASES OVER TIME
The Dynamic Systems Theory of Motor Development
The development of motor skills is a remarkable undertaking which child developmentalists now know is interrelated and dynamic. Rather than singular and isolated, motor skills develop within a system which is highly influenced by the environment and by the child’s culture.
- Dynamic Systems Theory of Motor Development is a theory that attempts to explain motor development in infants and children, developed in the 20th century by Esther Thelen. The Dynamic Systems theory is the broadest and most all-encompassing of all developmental theories. The most significant impact of Dynamic Systems theory has been in our understanding of early sensorimotor development, including both gross motor and fine motor skills.Systems Theory
Motor skills are the product of four factors. These four factors develop with age.
- Central nervous system development
- Body’s movement capacities
- Goals of child
- Environmental support
DEVELOPING A SKILL
INFLUENCE OF CULTURE
WHEN CULTURE VALUES SAFETY
WHEN CULTURE VALUES STRENGTH
- SENSORY INPUT
- HEARING AND SPEECH
Perceptual development is an essential aspect of the child’s ability to interpret, understand, and apply sensory input. There are several major areas of perceptual development and the young child has an extraordinary ability to bring all this together through intermodal perception and differentiation to promote learning and relationships with others.
Vision is not well-developed at birth; however, it rapidly develops over the first few months of life. In the earliest weeks, the infant can only see detail that is very near and shows a preference for human faces.
- The development of vision is supported by changes in the eye, as well as the cerebral cortex. As vision develops, the baby uses visual scanning to enhance perception and their interest in perception enhances scanning. As vision develops, so does depth perception. The ability to judge depth or distance is necessary for motor activity. The infant’s ability to perceive depth was confirmed by the visual cliff study designed by Eleanor Gibson. When infants were placed on a plexiglass surface, they crawled when it was over a shallow depth, but stopped moving when the depth was greater.
Gibson’s Differentiation Theory
Eleanor and James Gibson were psychologists who specialized in the study of infant perception; however, Eleanor Gibson’s work on infant perception was more in-depth and thorough than her husband’s. Eleanor Gibson was the first to recognize that infants were born fully capable of perception, and that perception drove the process of learning. There was no need for the infant to learn to perceive; at birth, she could see and hear, touch and feel, and discern many things about her environment. Gibson sought, in her work, to answer two basic questions: “What is learned and what is the function? What instigates learning and what terminates the process?” Gibson relied on a comparative systems approach. She looked at the individual, whether an animal or human child, in its entire environment, or system. She compared this individual to others to assess the process of perception and learning.
Exploration Drives Learning
Exploration drives learning. Even before babies are capable of crawling or walking, they can see things in their environment and wish to explore those things. Once they can move to the things they see, they want to look, touch, and taste what they see–to perceive and learn all they can about the things. Multimodal exploration is the norm for infants and young children.These exploratory activities have three distinct parts: a perceptual aspect, a motor aspect, and a knowledge-gathering aspect. The child perceives a thing, locomotes to explore the thing, and uses his senses to perceive information and gain knowledge about the thing.
Which of the following may support mother-infant bonding?Differentiation theory of perceptionThe Moro reflexPattern recognitionDynamic Systems theoryI don’t knowOne attemptSubmit answerYou answered 0 out of 0 correctly. Asking up to 2.
The first two to three years of life are a time of rapid growth and development for human children. These years provide the basis for future learning, and physical or emotional harm during this time can cause lifelong issues with cognition, emotional control, impulse control, and even motor skills. The development of the cerebral cortex occurs during the first two to three years of life and is dependent upon both genetics and environmental factors.
Children make leaps in physical, emotional and cognitive development in these years. Behaviorism, including classical and operant conditioning explains some amount of infant learning. In addition, the human interest in novelty supports learning through the process of habituation and recovery. Children also learn through the process of imitation of adults and others in their environment.
A number of theories attempt to explain how children develop new skills as infants and toddlers.The Dynamic Systems theory of motor development suggests that the development of motor skills is highly individual and related to cultural values about child development. Children may develop skills in a different order, and may develop different skills depending upon their culture and parenting styles. Finally, Gibson’s Differentiation Theory of perception attempts to explain how children perceive the world and convert these perceptions into knowledge about the world.
DIFFERENTIATION THEORY OF PERCEPTION
DYNAMIC SYSTEMS THEORY OF MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
EXPERIENCE-DEPENDENT BRAIN GROWTH
EXPERIENCE-EXPECTANT BRAIN GROWTH
- Adolph, Karen E. & Kretch, Kari S. (n.d.). Gibson’s Theory of Perceptual Learning. Retrieved from http://www.psych.nyu.edu/adolph/publications/AdolphKretch-inpress-GibsonTheory.pdf.
- Fine by Nine. (n.d.). Learning Begins at Birth. Retrieved from http://www.finebynine.org/uploaded/file/Briefing%20Paper%201.pdf.
- Gerhardstein, Peter et. al. (2006) Using Operant Techniques with Human Infants. Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-170113005/using-operant-techniques-w ith-humans-infants.
- Kinser, Patricia Ann. (2000) Brain Structures and their Functions. Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Structure1.html.
- Learning Theories. (n.d.). Classical and Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Structure1.html.
- Psysc613. (n.d.). Dynamic Systems Theory. Retrieved from https://psysc613.wikispaces.com/Dynamic+Systems+Theoryrant-conditioning.
- Zero to Three. (n.d.). Brain Development. Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/frequently-asked-questions-about-bra
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Also posted onMay 7, 2020 @ 1:59 pm