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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 1, Lesson 1

What is Child Development?

Child development is typically defined as a normal progression by which children change as they grow older by acquiring and refining knowledge, behaviors, and skills. Child development generally involves observing/assessing five specific areas: motor/physical, cognitive, social/emotional, communication/language, and self-help/adaptive. Three generally accepted principles of child development are that the rate of development differs among children, development occurs in a relatively orderly process, and development takes place gradually (Woolfolk, 2001). As children grow, various physical and developmental milestones will be reached during each age level which includes increases in height and weight as well as development in the rest of the five specific areas mentioned above. When referring to child growth, generally it is in reference to the specific physical changes of a child's actual size such as increases in height, weight, head circumference, and body shape.

What is a typical child development?

In order to define atypical child development, one must have basic knowledge of typical or normal child development. The terms typical and normal child development are often used interchangeably to refer to children acquiring a wide range of skills similar to the majority of children their same age within their same culture. However, the term "typical" development is more accepted by parents than the term "normal" development. Development not only includes similar skills of peers, but also entails such developmental concepts as maturation, achievement of developmental milestones (significant points of accomplishments in various skill areas), developmental sequence of skills, and age level expectations.

When defining atypical child development, one may note the saying, "There is more than one way to grow up." Taking that into consideration, there is probably no such thing as a truly typically developing child since there is great variation of skills and the age at which those skills are normally acquired. This refers to both typically and atypically developing children. A typically developing child acquires specific skills and behaviors according to a predictable rate and sequence. However, no two children develop and grow at exactly the same rate, acquire the same skills at exactly the same time nor perform those skills in exactly the same way. Therefore, the term atypical child development is used to describe children whose differences in development are to a marked degree or whose development appears to be significantly inconsistent with normal child development and/or have significant deviations in the normal sequence of development. A child who is described as having developmental delays would be a child who performs significantly below the average performance of a large group of children of the same age in one or more of the five developmental areas.

Three stages of Prenatal Development

When considering child development, one has to take into account prenatal development. Prenatal development (development of the fetus prior to birth) is typically divided into three phases: first trimester (first three months of pregnancy), second trimester (second three months of pregnancy), and third trimester (third three and a half months of pregnancy).

During the first trimester, conception to the third month, individuals are made up of trillions of cells which contain a chemical molecule called DNA. Genes, which are segments of DNA, determine unique characteristics. Sex cells or gametes are formed during special cell division, or meiosis, where the usual number of chromosomes in human cells is split in half. At conception, when sperm and ovum unite, each new being has the correct number of chromosomes. A girl child or a boy child will be established depending on the combination of sex chromosomes.

During the first trimester, the fetus grows to about 3 inches long and weighs about 1 ounce. The fetus' nervous system, gastrointestinal system, spinal cord, senses, brain, heart and lungs begin to develop. The face begins to form, the arms, legs, fingers, and toes begin to move. The fetus can also smile, frown, suck, and swallow and the sex can be distinguished.

Expectant WomanDuring the second trimester, month four through month six of the pregnancy, the fetus grows to about 15 inches long and weighs about 1 ½ pounds. The fetus' fingernails, toenails, hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows form during this time. The fetus can suck its thumb and hiccup. The heartbeat can be heard with a stethoscope and its eyes are opened.

During the last months of the pregnancy, the fetus gains more than five pounds and increases in length by about 7 inches, and becomes more active in the womb. During this time, the fetus gains immunities from the mother, becomes less wrinkled, and begins to store iron in its liver. The fetus responds to sounds, particularly the mother's voice, and goes through periods of wakefulness and sleep and as the brain development continues, the fetus spends more time awake. The bones of the fetus' head are soft and flexible prior to the birth process. During the last few weeks of the pregnancy, the fetus becomes active, growth slows and the fetus will begin to assume the birth position.


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