What should you expect your child to be doing at each age & stage of life? Knowledge is power: by knowing how they grow & develop, you can be better equipped to help them along the way. Learn about each age group here.
Some Primary Ways Children Develop:
Early Years (0-1)
Infants experience the world with their whole bodies. Physical sensation, thought and feelings are all one total experience. The infant also perceives no separation between herself and her mother. Babies learn through their eyes, ears, nose, hands, mouth, & skin.
Babies also learn by moving their bodies. Although at first their movement is reflexive (not voluntary), infants quickly learn that they can create change by moving their bodies. An example of this is when a baby hits the crib mobile by accident and something happens. After experiencing this several times, a connection is made and the baby will wave it's arm in the same way to recreate the effect. Intentional movement has begun.
Infants spend a lot of time sleeping, especially during their newborn period. But, whenever they are awake & alert, they are ready and eager to learn. They quickly begin gazing into their parents’ eyes and turning toward warm, familiar voices. One clear choice they make is to use their senses to respond first to people, and then to objects. For example, while researchers are finding that infants like to look at things that move, what young infants seem to prefer most is looking at human faces. Another example of their "people choice" is their obvious preference for contact with another body – learning about their world through their skin – as opposed to lying by themselves in the cradle. The sense of touch provides reassuring warmth, tactile comfort & closeness. In the first year, infants dramatically change in their capacity to move independently, with each newly acquired ability increasing their understanding. They quickly become active explorers of their environment. Initially, they explore intensely with their mouths, learning about different textures, shapes & tastes. For this reason, toys need to be safe and should provide interesting surfaces. As they begin to handle objects, babies form mental concepts about those experiences. They grow in their thinking abilities when they are faced with surprises they can manage.
They learn about object permanence – (that is, that an object or person still exists even if they can’t see it at a particular moment – hence, their love of endless games of peek-a-boo or hide-the-toy-under-the-blanket). They come to understand the idea of cause-and-effect (shaking a rattle makes a great sound, or pushing down the button makes the clown jump up). They are great experimenters, learning first by simple trial & error and then through more purposeful actions. They are constantly trying new things with familiar toys, and always welcome a new uncharted adventure.
Coupled with an increased understanding of how things work is their growing ability to communicate. From birth, babies communicate. As in all areas of development, they do this first with the whole body, responding with pleasure to a parent’s voice by smiling & kicking their arms & legs. A whole repertoire of sounds comes quickly to infants who learn by listening to speech & by experimenting with their own voices & seeing its effect on the world. By the end of the first year, many babies use a few words with actual meaning: to get their needs met, to greet people, or for self-expression.
The greatest needs of an infant in the first year of life are for a warm, safe, trusting relationship with parents & caregivers; a physical environment that holds a variety of experiences; the freedom to explore that world safely; communication & respect as an individual. Toys that will delight the infant are those that can be squeezed, squeaked, chewed & grasped. Also favored will be things to stack & nest, as well as mirrors, books & music.
See Discovery Toys products for newborn to 2-year-olds.
Toddler Years (1-3)
In the second and third years of life an infant becomes a toddler and continues to explore through senses & movement, although in a much more refined manner. The new mobility gained by learning to walk makes independence & curiosity the name of the game. Determined to find out how the world works, the toddler wants to take things apart & put them back together; to put them in & take them out to stack, roll, pound & drop. Everything in their world becomes a toy & they like to make things happen. Toys now take on a much greater role as toddlers begin to comprehend that they are truly separate from mom & dad & caregivers. Challenges in toys are welcome, and those toys that can be used in sand, water & dirt are especially important because these are favorite elements.
A toddler’s ability to communicate is exploding. They learn new words and their meanings at a phenomenal rate. This language explosion is enriched by those around them, and by other stimulating experiences with sound, music, & books. Imagination is now expressed in words & actions so that the toddlers can now show the world an ability to create a world of fantasy. Pretending at first will consist of imitation of those familiar actions that are most often watched (for example, stirring with a spoon in a bowl).
Toddlers will have the desire to express themselves creatively in music & art as well as with their newly discovered "talking" ability. With close supervision, children can begin to use crayons & marking pens on large sheets of paper. Seeing their own marks on paper will be thrilling to two-yearolds. Music, as well, provides the rhythms & maybe a few words of their favorite songs. The first three years in the life of a child are a wonder to behold. As babies & toddlers become preschoolers, their ability to perceive, hold information, and respond to the world in diverse ways becomes a new challenge. They can now make sense of the concrete, physical world, and its translation into thought, ideas & sensitivity become the method & the mode of learning. Eager to learn all about the physical world & their own place in it, they move on with tremendous energy.
See Discovery Toys products for 1 to 3-year-olds.Preschool Years (3-5)
This is a very active & exciting time for children. They are curious, & find joy in exploring, doing new activities, & looking for new experiences. Children at this age go from "knowing" things to really "understanding" them, & skills in thinking, language & use of imagination flourish.
At three years of age, children interpret reality very literally in terms of immediate perceptions, & the only perspective they can take is their own. "I am the center of the universe. Everything that happens involves me & happens to me." This "egocentric" perspective also means that all things happen in the present: NOW. As children move through the next few years, their thinking becomes more flexible, & they begin to take another’s perspective. They also start to have a sense of time & history.
The development described above happens with maturation, interaction with people, play experience, and interaction with materials such as toys.
Dramatic or creative play is especially important for preschoolers. As children remember something that happened yesterday & act it out, they create a past for themselves. As they imagine a fantasy role & pretend to be a character – Mom, Superman, a sky-diver, a firefighter – they are creating a future for themselves. With a lot of practice, memory, & creative imagination, children begin to understand the past, present, AND future. Use of face make-up & dress-up clothes, books, dolls, & interaction with other children & adults, all support the development of these kinds of thinking skills.
Games & activities with items to sort, classify, compare, contrast, & match further children’s learning of simple math concepts & ready them to begin recognizing written numerals & letters. Game play, with turn-taking & use of simple logic skills (such as dominoes), are valuable for recognizing "same" & "different" characteristics.
In order to learn concepts, children need to have all their senses & their whole bodies involved. The more concrete their experiences, the easier it will be to understand their world. They need toys & other objects that they can hold, move, & manipulate. For example, the simple household activity of setting the table & matching one plate, one fork, one knife, & one cup strengthens the child’s grasp of one-to-one correspondence, a pre-math concept.
Language has developed from babbling sounds, simple words & simple sentences of two or threewords to longer sentences & telling stories on a very sophisticated level.Lots of conversation, opportunities to make up stories, tape-recording their own voices, & listening to books & music will further expand this growth. Most three-year-olds can carry on very adult-sounding conversations. Beware of their tendency to interpret words in very literal ways. Words need to mean exactly what they say, & meanings will be directly connected to the child’s own experiences. Though they may fool you by repeating your words, their interpretation may be different than yours. They will know, for example, that you "give toy demonstrations," but they will be fuzzy about what a "demonstration" is and what you actually do there.
Physically, three-, four-, and five-year-olds have good command of their bodies and are in the process of smoothing out their muscle movements (large & small). Therefore, they need places to run, jump, climb & swing. A three-year-old seldom keeps still longer than five minutes. They are also beginning to understand their place in relation to other physical objects in space (they know "up", "down", "in", "out,") and are developing knowledge about size relationships. They know that houses are "bigger" than they are. In order to improve coordination and the use of small muscles, they will need pens, pencils, crayons, markers, & large sheets of paper on which to write & draw. Scissors, hole punchers, & staplers will provide an added bonus to this paper "work." Constructive toys, puzzles, blocks, & all sorts of things to manipulate add to the refined movements they are beginning to master with their hands.
Children in this age group are very social & sociable. They are interested in everybody & may ask questions of those they meet in order to find out for themselves what is happening. They are beginning to move out into the world & need to know that adults are available as a safe base to which they can return. As they try out their own ideas & succeed, their self-esteem & sense of self enlarges & becomes stronger. Our careful selection of toys, with attention to elements that might be frustrating, supports this growth.
The desire to express oneself is also flourishing & is evidence of a stronger interest in personal identity. Arts & crafts materials, constructive toys, & dramatic play will facilitate this growth. Pencils, pens, crayons, colored chalk, paste, glue, & small scissors become appropriate. Children will also enjoy easels & sheets of paper to paint on with tempera paint & water colors. Clay & play dough offer hours of pleasurable molding. Skill in the use of these materials will improve with lots of practice, & will still require supervision so that the experience is a positive one.
As children engage in dramatic & fantasy play, they are "fleshing out" their self-image & trying themselves out in pretend parts & situations. As they play with others – both adults & children – they are forming social relationships, learning to negotiate, developing language, acting in & directing drama, & practicing other skills they are beginning to master. Because imaginative play serves to unite so much of the growth accomplishment of this age, it is the single most important activity in which preschool children can take part. Many of our products support this development. When children practice crossing & re-crossing the lines between reality & fantasy, they establish the differences more firmly in their thinking, & begin to understand they are two distinct & separate worlds. This understanding helps them to further emerge from the "here & now" into the larger world.
See Discovery Toys products for 3- to 5-year-olds.
School Years (5-7)
Exciting new worlds open to five-, six-, and seven-year-olds as they continue to grow steadily in physical strength, coordination, thinking abilities, & self-expression. While still exploring their understanding of the world through real, concrete experiences, children are beginning to take great pleasure in grasping new connections between concepts, remembering ideas & generally adding to their store of knowledge. Before they could repeat ideas like, "Mom is going to work." Now they really begin to understand the meaning behind the words.
With a firmer grasp on reality, play will no longer be an attempt to create the world in order to understand & learn about it, but rather will take on more of the aspect of recreation & relaxation – as it does for adults. With a spirit of adventure & discovery, children will find their neighborhoods comfortable places to explore. As they eventually reach the "outer limits" of the neighborhood, they will begin to glimpse beyond & into the larger community.
With expanding abilities of attention, memory, & perception, the activities of ordering, categorizing, & collecting have great appeal. Children will occasionally enjoy making order out of chaos by doing such activities as raking leaves from the lawn. Also, stamps, rocks, & bugs (which previously have been interesting only to look at) now take on a "collectible" status. Constructive models & materials are a welcome challenge to the child’s eyes & sense of space as the world enlarges by breadth & depth.
The beginnings of a somewhat flexible logic is emerging, as well as real ability in problem solving. More complex puzzles, math games & simple logic games, all provide a fun means of practicing these abilities. Board games & card games also become attractive as children become more comfortable with decision-making, the use of rules, cooperating with others, & dealing with success & occasional failure. Quality books & music will become more important as the ability to visualize (create mental pictures & images) develops from what children hear, what is read to them, the music they listen to & the conversation they hear around them.
While language is definitely established by this age, the process of development is by no means complete. The ability to make sounds clearly is, in fact, still developing, and some sounds are not mastered until the age of seven. Enjoyment of the richness of words is now truly appreciated. While children at this age may not be able to articulate all they know, the sparkle of their understanding of a riddle is obvious. The challenge for children of this age is to be able to communicate to those around them all the amazing things that they see & understand.
Enjoying their increasing physical prowess makes "sport" toys & equipment popular at this age. Toys to use alone or with others include: jump ropes, skateboards & rollerblades, softballs & gloves, soccer balls & bicycles. Children enjoy greater muscle control as well, & take great strides in managing & manipulating materials in their own creative ways. Owning & using their own tools (pens, pencils, paints, brushes, markers, clay, etc.) gives great joy. Listening to music & recording their own voices will expand language & imagination.
Skills in logic & reasoning develop rapidly over the next few years. As the world opens up, five-, six-, & seven-year-olds begin to ask a million questions & wonder about their place on the map. They will want to know all about everything at once – not just what is happening on the surface, but also what is going on inside & underneath. Finding out for themselves will continue to expand their sense of self-esteem. As they begin to develop academic skills – reading, writing, & simple computation – they will want a lot of practice in these activities. The adult’s role becomes one of providing resources for exploration that supports their school curriculum & their individual interests.
At this age, interests become very individualized – one child may be eager to know everything about dinosaurs, but may not want to know about space. Children will enjoy creating their own projects with their own "tools" for gardening, woodworking, & personal grooming. Their pride in completing a project or taking responsibility for their personal appearance is evidence of a child’s emerging, unique personality.
As children begin to move into their ninth year, specific interests will continue to separate, personalities will become even more pronounced, & others outside the family will exert greater influence: friends, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, camp counselors, etc. Children will begin moving out into the wider world without their parents as they entrust their safety & well-being to others.
See Discovery Toys products for 5- to 7-year-olds.
Confident Thinkers & Doers (8+)
By the age of eight years, children have a strong knowledge of who & what they are. They are moving rapidly through stages of more & more complex thinking processes – yet they are still somewhat tied to understanding new information through "concrete" means. Increased consistency in the use of concepts means that what may have been fuzzy at age three will be clear & exact at age eight.
From eight years on, thinking skills rapidly become more & more abstract as the "great journey into the mind" begins. With an expanded sense of time & timing, children will learn to "tell time" with clocks & watches. Children will also be able to manipulate quantities at first physically & then later abstractly (for example, pouring liquids, then measuring liquids, then using measured amounts in a chemistry experiment). Their minds will enjoy synthesizing information & materials into new contexts. At this point, individuals can consider a range of possible questions, knowing that they can return to the point of origin, & begin again if necessary.
Experiencing the joy & excitement of these "mental gymnastics" – planning, executing, & producing – is of paramount importance. The process of successfully initiating & eventually completing a project of their own fills children with pride & amazement. Books with directions for drawing & performing simple experiments further support this interest. Craft & model kits, science & chemistry kits, & microscopes will also be of great value. More complicated board & card games will push the limits of this budding "strategist." In all these activities, a sense of accomplishment is vital because successful activity leads children to a sense of their personal worth.
At this age, articulation & sophistication in language is finally a match for thoughts. Children can now express clearly what is on their minds & in their hearts. Once again vocabulary is expanding. However, while children can now outwardly express themselves in an adult fashion, they are still creating a sense of the world in a very private personal place inside. During the tenth & eleventh years, children seem to need long stretches of time to "stare" & dream. Similar to the "staring" of an infant, children this age are creating & re-creating a new vision of their world, putting together the puzzle of life & using everyday experience as their guide. Some of the ideas & images from their "daydreaming" will need to be expressed as drawings, poetry, stories, & songs. Art materials & musical instruments will support this budding, creative self.
Physical changes again become quite obvious over the next few years with a lengthening of arms, legs, & necks. Boys’ voice quality will change. Both boys & girls will change shape as puberty approaches. In this process, girls & boys tend to take a "breather" from the opposite sex, before they become interested in each other again in a whole new way. For this reason, very different content in books, pictures, & games may have appeal for each gender. Physical play will increasingly find its expression in team play, with various indoor & outdoor sports becoming important to children – both as participants & as observers. These activities will begin to merge with those of adults & serve as recreational & relaxation activities.
Socially, this is the age of "clubs" & "groups." Children will make up their own rules for membership & sometimes only a select few will be allowed "in". At about the age of ten or eleven years, children will often begin to dream about their future careers. They will reach back to their earlier fantasy play & remember pretending to be a pilot or an artist. With this beginning sketch in mind, they will proceed to fill in details – reading books about others in the field, talking to professionals, & starting to set some plans for the future.
With an increasing ability to perceive & understand the world, it will suddenly grow much larger. Even the ability to mentally move off the earth will become possible, as space & astronomy become absorbing topics for both boys & girls. Map-reading & map-making activities will give a lot of pleasure to some children. On the other end of the spectrum, the history of animals, people, & architecture will hold great interest for others. And with more separation between real & fantasy worlds, stories will move much deeper into make-believe, with a growing fascination in non-existent creatures & places (giants, space aliens, & unknown planets). With a firmer grasp of reality, imagination can now really take off.
As children move into the pre-adolescent, adolescent, & young adult years, they will be able to handle more & more responsibility for themselves. Their independence will be seen in clear choices of books, activities, clothes, & friends. Reasonable & appropriate chores expand this sense of responsibility & pride. Increasing amounts of attention will be focused outside the home & neighborhood as children grow into their place in the adult world.
See Discovery Toys products in this age group.
Now that you've learned how your child develops, please check out my Discovery Toys Perfect Toy Finder to see how Discovery Toys products can help you & your child reach your developmental & ecuational goals. Additional parenting information with ideas for even more interactive activities for you & your child!