What is Child Development?
By child development, emphasis is on the sequence of physical, language, thought and emotional changes that occur in a child from birth to the beginning of adulthood. During this process a child progresses from dependency on their parents/guardians to increasing independence. Child development is strongly influenced by genetic factors (genes passed on from their parents) and events during prenatal life. It is also influenced by environmental facts and the child’s learning capacity. This discourse is more learning environmental facts as they impact on child development.
The argument over nature versus nurture centers on whether nature (heredity and the genetic predisposition to specific traits) or nurture (the environmental surroundings and upbringing) is primarily responsible for the development of children. To understand individuals who seem to have a predisposition toward mental illness or socially aberrant behavior, it is commonly said that ‘nature loads the gun and nurture pulls the trigger.
Let’s take a look at what kinds of environmental factors (or nurture) can impact early childhood development and in what ways.
Definition of Environment
Environment is defined as the physical environment, its surroundings, and a specific setting (Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006). It is very critical to understand the importance of the environment and the impact on each child by parents, teachers and educators.
The child’s relationship with others at school and in the community (Social
environment), how well families meet the child’s relational needs at home (Emotional environment), the family’s ability to provide financially for the child (Economic environment).
The physical environment may also impact development through exposure to drugs, alcohol, tobacco or environmental toxins like lead. The child’s home, neighborhood, state and even earth may be part of the physical environment. Children may have been exposed in utero to some of these environmental factors, but the symptoms may manifest as difficulties in preschool age development.
RANGE OF LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
Decisions about how the classroom or physical environment is arranged will depend on the philosophy and goals of the teacher. Depending on the teacher’s objectives, the room arrangements and placement of instructional materials will differ; however, certain essential features will need to be in every classroom (Hand & Nourot, 1999).
For example, one teacher’s belief is that children become more literate through participating in a broad range of activities that include read-aloud and group reading. Given this belief, the teachers will make sure that their classrooms have a comfortable library area, that the children can access many literacy materials without asking for them, and that they have table space for reading and writing silently.
Some of the learning areas that are most common and that you will see in the early childhood classroom are art, library/listening/writing activities, blocks, dramatic play, science/discovery activities, and manipulative/mathematics/games. Keep in mind that these areas will need to consider the children’s ages, interests, and abilities, and thus will need to change accordingly.
However, the concern here is not necessarily a specific learning center but with the understanding that learning occurs every day and everywhere, whether it is inside or outside the classroom.
- Bredekamp and Copple (1997) state, the time a child spends in preschool is an important period of development and is not regarded as just a period before formal schooling begins. The growing interest in providing children with appropriate learning environments has initiated a concentration in the design of learning environments (Pianta, La Paro, Payne, Cox, & Bradley, 2002). A good foundation in education may lead to success in learning and, eventually, in life. Understanding the influence of the environment on a child’s growth and development is an important part of building that foundation.
- Children learn by perception. The way they perceive their environments, whether positive or negative, has an effect on their learning experience (Read, Sugawara, and Brandt, 1999). Careful and considerate design of children spaces may lead to more interaction and involvement by the children toward their tasks and promote better learning habits (Doctoroff, 2001).
- According to Watkins & Durant (1992), the environment affects the people, or users, that interact with it; this is especially true in children who are susceptible to the influences of their surroundings. The physical environment influences a child’s behavior and is a good indicator of how children should respond or act. Room arrangement and materials determine where children focus their attention.
- Children learn through exploration and investigation of their surroundings. A learning environment should be attractive, exciting, and a place where a child can learn and play using suitable resources (Isbell & Exelby, 2001). Most of the characteristics in the physical setting can have an effect on the way the occupants behave and on their mental health. This includes the interaction with the environment, which aids children in their development (Bailey, 2002). How children interact with their environment and its occupants should influence the arrangement of objects and activities in the space (Isbell & Exelby, 2001).
For instance, In a recent study by Read et al.(1999), children were exposed to different variations in ceiling height and color. They found that the behavior of the children was significantly changed by the alterations in ceiling heights. This study demonstrates that changes made to the physical setting may have an impact on children’s behavior. In addition, a study by Teets (1985) found that modifications to the overall organization of the room had positive changes in the ambiance of the room; consequently improving the children’s behavior.
These two studies support the theory that there is a relationship between the physical environment and children’s behavior.
Livestrong Steps for Creating a Positive Learning Environment for Children
Having been established that in a school or home setting, a positive learning environment is crucial for a child. A positive learning environment not only consists of the physical setting, but it also encompasses how the child feels or responds to the setting. There are a number of ways families and educators can create an environment for children that is conducive to learning.
Step 1: Create Order and Remove Clutter
Children need to feel that there is orderliness in their environment so that they can learn. A room that is free of clutter will help them open their minds to new things. A cluttered or unorganized room can be distracting and impede learning. Furniture should be arranged in such a way that there is little traffic throughout the day and so that it appears organized.
Step 2: Ensure Comfort
This includes temperature of the room, comfortable furniture and aesthetic appeal. Making sure that rooms are not too hot or cold, lighted appropriately and decorated with items that may be appealing to children can help promote a positive learning experience.
Step 3: Ensure Health and Safety
Health and safety should be basic concerns for those creating a learning environment for children. This means childproofing rooms, removing health hazards and environmental allergens as much as possible. Children who do not feel safe have more difficulty learning. Bullying should not be tolerated; children should feel safe and valued at all times.
Step 4: Consideration for the Children
Include children in the creation of their environment. This includes having their artwork or accomplishments posted on walls. This will help make their environment welcoming and comfortable.
Step 5: Provide Support, Praise and Feedback
Provide support, praise and feedback. It is important for parents and educators to provide positive reinforcement and feedback to their young learners. This gives children motivation to learn, make mistakes and accomplish new things.
Step 6: Provide Discipline when necessary
Provide discipline when necessary. Establishing rules for conduct during learning and playtime activities is important. These rules should also outline consequences. Behaviors that disrupt learning can disrupt the entire classroom.
Home Learning Environment
Research has shown that children in extreme family environments, such as chaotic households and those experiencing high levels of risk, not only have poorer outcomes but also receive poorer quality home learning. It is not surprising that risks such as maternal depression, maternal basic skills, and violence within the home impact on the kind of home learning experienced.
Some people believe that as infants, girls will be spoken to more by their mothers, and as they grow older, girls will experience more learning activities in the home than boys, read to more, told more stories, more likely to be taught the alphabet, play more games with their parents, and experience more creative activities in the home than boys. However, relationships may be reciprocal, if parents and educators not only respond to a child’s interest in some kinds of activities, but may also be a reflection of cultural stereotypes and expectations.
Early home learning environment really matter because a positive early years home learning environment can provide many benefits, and there is a wealth of literature on the relationship between early home learning activities and enhanced cognitive, social and physical development of children. Such as predicting higher levels of vocabulary, spelling and emergent literacy in young children through reading to children and encouraging positive attitudes to reading. Home activities such as counting and doing simple sums with children or playing games with numbers have been found to predict better numeracy ability and attitudes.
However, without supporting a more holistic approach to enhancing the quality of the home learning environment, some families may not be able to provide this for their children. A successful home learning environment requires much more than simply engaging in specific activities, and to address these skills alone. It requires a stable home environment, responsive parenting and crucially, motivated and confident parents who value education and have high aspirations for their children. Home learning does not occur in a vacuum. It is complexly related to the overall home environment, including family functioning and parental mental health as well as the social and physical environment. It is vital that any interventions trying to improve it, takes this broader context into account. Families may require multiple strands of support to enable a positive home learning practices to thrive. Some families will need additional support to help with acute problems such as chaotic lifestyles, substance abuse, mental health and confidence, as well as basic literacy and numeracy skills.
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