To nurture and educate a child, it is imperative to understand all their developmental processes with the aim of meeting the child’s ever-changing needs. Keen (2011) defines child development as a “systematic process of gaining of skills in all aspects of child’s life” (p.12). It is impossible to imagine how you to meet a child’s specific needs unless one understands what to expect at every stage in terms of physical, cognitive, communicational, and behavioral growth. Because of that, educators have a responsibility to monitor, assist with, and assess toddlers with their developmental progress (Bergin & Bergin, 2018, p.29). In recent decades, there have been substantial developments in the documentation of child educational progress with the aim of improving the practice of early childhood education. By monitoring a child’s developmental processes over a considerable period of time, it is hypothesized that better learning outcomes will be achieved (Hammond, 2009, p.8). Elicker, Ruprecht and Anderson (2014) indicate that all domains of development are linked together and despite happening simultaneously, they can occur at different rates (p.143). It is also important to recognize that developmental progress monitoring is an individualized process that is documented for every child (Benson, 2012, p.81). In that regard, this developmental summary is a systematic documentation of my key child Finn over the course of four months.
Brief Introduction of the Child
My key child is a 29-month-old boy named Finn born January 26, 2017. I have worked with Finn for a period of four months from when he was 24 months old to when he was 27 months old. Finn lives with his parents at an apartment near the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center, so his commute to school is easier in comparison to other kids who live several blocks away. Both Finn’s parents are American, and English is the language that is primarily spoken at home. Both parents also work at full-time jobs and his mother always picks him up after school every day. Also, Finn has an older sister, Alex, who is two years his senior. At home, they have two cats which have been living in the apartment since Finn’s birth. Despite missing dinner due to work commitments, his father spends more time with Finn and his sister during the weekends playing outdoor games. It is important to indicate that the family moved to the area because of professional commitments and they do not have extended family around.
Contextually, Finn has been attending Rita Gold Early Childhood Development Center in the infant’s room and started transitioning to the toddler room over the winter break. I started working with him when he was just one month into the toddler room. The school attendance pattern is five days per week and runs from 8:45 am to 5:00pm. When dropped off by his mother, Finn demonstrates no separation anxiety and is affectionately warm towards educators and his peers. He often arrives at the center with a hug for educators and wears a very big smile. When I first started working with him, he primarily was an observer in the classroom. Over time, he started engaging in interactive and cooperative playing activities. At the end of the program, Finn was hands-on in almost all age-appropriate physical activities, had built on his communication skills, and would seamlessly interact with other children. This developmental summary uses contextual information to discuss the child’s physical development, social emotional learning, language and communication, and cognitive development.
Since January, Finn has shown growth in all domains and is able to join, initiate, and observe different play situations. On March 3, 2019 at the playground, for instance, Finn ran up to one of the structures and started climbing up the ladder. He climbed up the first rung, but then paused. When asked if he needed help climbing, Finn climbed down and ran up the stairs instead. He then slid down one of the slides. After reaching the bottom, Finn ran to the ladder but when he was close, he immediately turned around and ran back to the stairs instead. Finn slid down the slide two more times and then ran to the ladder, but when he saw the ladder he quickly turned around and went back to the stairs. This shows the development of his motor skills and his confidence in play.
Finn has also developed advanced motor skills. On April 4, between 10:13 and 10:18 am, Finn was playing in the middle of the room where a bench was flipped over and turned into a rectangle tub. He put his left hand on the tub while holding the truck in his right hand. He also lifted his right leg up to help him in stepping over the rectangular play tub. After doing so, he stopped on the floor over the play tub and looked around. He stood in the hollow portion and looked back at the teacher while his truck was still in his right hand. He looked to the teacher for reassurance and nodded his head. “Go ahead!” the teacher said. Finn bent down and put both hands on the side of the play tub and pulled his right leg over into the play tub, followed by his left leg. He then climbed out of the tub by placing his right hand first, then left hand, and right foot, followed by the left foot. Finn looked at the teacher and nodded with his eyebrows raised and a questionable expression in his eyes. Despite taking a longer time, he showed an affectionate smile on his face after completing the task. After Finn got out of the tub, he went over the mat and sat on an elevated half-circle and looked at the other toddler. He sat beside his friend Penn and played in a parallel fashion. He lied on his back and played with the truck as he looked up for a while. While he was on his back, he pushed his pelvis up to the sky several times. He then stood up and he rolled the car over and went towards the rainbow rug.
From the above-mentioned anecdotal developments, it is evident that Finn has demonstrated growth in his body language, physical exploration skills, general body mastery and other receptive physical developments. He can now play alongside peers with a strong sense of identity and curiosity. However, his playing depends on adult reassurance. Gillespie and Hunter (2010) indicate that adult reassurance in children’s physical development is critical in supporting them to perform activities with courage, empathy, care, and respect (p.43). At the end of the four months period, Finn was able to jump over objects, stop readily, avoid obstacles, squat to play, lie down on his back, explore new body positions, and easily maneuver using his hands. This is congruent with the statements of Elliot and Gonzalez-Mena (2011), who stated that children at this age have a strong sense of wellbeing as they start to consider physical wellbeing and safety (p.30). In that regard, Finn has developed a wide spectrum of physical capabilities during this period and he would benefit from large gross-motor outdoor games to facilitate his muscle development as well as to learn from others.
Language and Communication
At the beginning of the four months period, I did not notice Finn to communicate very often. By speaking to him more regularly and engaging him in interactive playground activities, Finn opened up and used more expressive language in our interactions. Also, as he mastered his body more, he uses body language more often and he was able to express his feelings and needs. On March 27 at Dolphin Park, for instance, he went to sit on a concrete whale situated on the floor with his knees bent in a prayer position. After that, he went to a sandbox that was part of the children’s playscape. At the sandbox, Penn and Jona who are older than him were speaking while playing. Finn was not speaking, but he was making noises and grunts as part of communication. At the edge of the sandbox, he looked over the edge once and decided to stay in the sandbox. He then walked along the inside edge of the sandbox a few steps, and attempted to get out. Finn then jumped over the edge of the sandbox to the outside playground. He wiped the sand from his hand and headed towards a bag with toys that are used for the sandbox. He pulled out a bucket and another toy and put it at the edge of the sandbox. Penn, who was inside the sandbox, met Finn at the edge of the sandbox and said something to him. Penn took the toy from Finn. Finn went to the bag and looked for another toy. Penn asked Finn, “Can I have that?” as soon as Finn picked up another tiny excavator. Finn looked over Finn and he brought him another toy. On many other occasions, Finn looked at the teacher to derive assurance to continue or stop specific activities.
At the end of the four months period, Finn was showing more use of body language. From the aforementioned anecdotal situation, he can now choose his playing space and playing objects freely. Finn expresses his needs by directly reaching for what he is interested with. In addition to non-verbal communication, Finn also makes indistinguishable vocalizations that show excitement and disappointment depending on the tone and facial expression. Swim (2016 p.59) indicates that more than 90 percent of communication mechanisms of children below the age of 36 months is majorly nonverbal. To encourage more verbal and nonverbal communication development, Keen (2011) suggests that educators should “select situations that will allow meaningful interactions” (p.15). By doing so, children will encounter developmentally challenging situations that will require self-expression. Goffin (2013) also indicates that these expressive skills will continue to develop as the child encounters new people and situations (p.112). In this case, Finn’s ability to initiate and sustain verbal and nonverbal social interactions with educators and his peers substantially grew.
Social Emotional Learning
At the beginning of the four months period, Finn was not observed initiating interactions, and engaging in cooperative play with peers, persisting on a challenging task, and engaging in parallel play. On March 14, during the children’s routine trip to Dolphin Park, Penn, an older friend in the classroom, was excited to find sticks all over the park. He took some of the sticks he picked up back from yesterday’s trip and stored them under a tree. Then he picked up those sticks one by one and inserted them in small holes of a manhole cover on the road. Finn stood beside him and observed for a minute. Finn then started to pick up sticks from the floor too and tried to fit them into the hole. He tried several small ones and sometimes the big ones until he found out that some have bifurcations and cannot fit into the manhole. He kept trying and moving the sticks in different angles and it still did not fit in. Then he went to get some soft sticks that were very thin and breakable. He tried to put those sticks into the hole and some of the branches broke in the process of getting in. He changed to bigger sticks and put several sticks in successfully. He picked up the bifurcated stick again and tried to put it through the same hole. He tried with a different angle, pulling the stick out and re-insert it in again. He was standing in front of the stick at first, then he changed his body position to the left and the right to provide a different angle of power. After several unsuccessful attempts, Finn threw the stick away and ran to the sandbox. In that regard, Finn’s level of persistence at this stage had significantly grown and could engage in parallel play without any difficulty.
In another situation, Penn helped Jennifer in bringing the toys over to the sandbox and quickly grabbed a dump truck and a shovel. Finn decided to join and while he was grabbing his own toys, he was more interested in seeing Penn roll around the sand. At first, he observed and this made Finn laugh. When Penn caught notice that Finn wanted to play, he looked over at him and scooped the sand out so that it flew all over his and Penn’s jacket. This made Finn laugh so hard and Penn continued to do it and roll around in the sand. Finn enjoyed this time with Penn and they both played and rolled around the sand for a while.
When I started working with Finn, he spent a considerable amount of time observing his peers. Over time, he was able to make more personal decisions and found his position in the playing space. By leaving the observation space and mimicking what his peers are doing, Elicker, Ruprecht, and Anderson (2014) suggest that the child will develop hands-on skills on how to relate, communicate, negotiate, and solve problems (p.137). Most importantly, through these socioemotional activities, the child develops the ability to self-regulate and make individualized choices and achieve goals independently (Diamond, 2014, p.11). In addition to relating with others socially and emotionally, Finn also developed attachments with various self-soothing experiences like pouring sand on a toy truck using and playing with friends. Therefore, during this period, Finn learnt important social and emotional skills that built his relationships with others in the classroom environment.
According to Denham and Burton (2012) cognitive development is the ability to construct thought processes, solve simple problems, remember, and make basic decisions (p. 92). When I started working with Finn, he quickly learnt how to cognitively execute simple thought processes. This is so because he understood how to build simple towers of more than two objects, line up objects in a train arrangement, recognize common playing materials, play with mixable materials such as sand and water, or recognize differences and similarities between different objects. Over time, he demonstrated greater awareness of what was happening in his environment and started to use verbal and nonverbal cues to interact with different elements. On March 27, for instance, Finn was playing with green Play Doh in his hands while looking at Emmy as she was giving instructions. He moved the Play Doh from his right hand to left hand repeatedly as he looked into the clear plastic box to find another tool to enhance his Play Doh exploration. On the table, there was a toy pizza slicer tool that Finn had previously used. From the plastic box, he found a metal brown keychain. When he put it down over the Play Doh, it made a clinking sound. In this case, the item he picked was not red or yellow like the other items in the box. The Play Doh was on the table and Finn pushed the keychain down onto the Play Doh with both hands to make an imprint in the Play Doh. Finn then looked at the Play Doh that had got stuck in the keychain and attempted to get it out. He used his right hand to bang the metal object on the table to release the Play Doh. He succeeded with a hard bang and used a spoon to shape the Play Doh that fell out of the metal mold. He then took the pizza slicer toy that was on his right-hand and sliced the Play Doh.
Finn’s play with the spoon and toy pizza slicer was very short and he began to play with the yellow star again. At this time, he remodeled the clay and fit it into the yellow star stencil he was previously playing with. Dananna came over and touched Finn and Finn briefly looked at her, then she went on to speak with Penn. Finn also continued to play with the Play Doh by making various indistinct shapes. He made eye contact with me for the first time and showed the Play Doh with excitement. When asked what he was making, he did not respond, but looked down at the Play Doh. It is clear that he was showing the Play Doh as he transferred it back and forth from his right hand to his left-hand several times. He looked down and continued to mold the Play Doh. During this period, his attention shifted from the Play Doh to looking at the teachers and a toddler playing on the rug. He then picked up a yellow circle, and said “Circle.” He tried to show it to Emmy, the teacher, across the room who was directing three “ballerinas” to spin in circles. He walked over to Emmy and showed the circle. He said “circle,” and came back to the Play Doh table again.
From the aforementioned anecdotal development, Finn already presents as a creative learner with age-appropriate imaginative play. The fact that he identifies different shapes and manipulates objects creatively in the school playing space indicates progressive cognitive development. Finn also demonstrates cognitive flexibility during the period and is able to selectively interact with different people in the learning continuum. At this learning stage, Finn is able to execute simple multitasking activities. He is also able to carefully observe the actions of others while undertaking purposeful play. Bergen, Reid, and Torelli (2001) suggest that there is need to allow the child to make personal decisions and solve personal problems at this stage to help in developing critical cognitive skills (p.101). Therefore, Finn’s cognitive ability is significantly developing and I hypothesize that he will continue to use this the skills he is developing in future problem-solving.
In summary, Finn’s physical, communicational, socioemotional, and cognitive development have progressed as expected. From Finn’s personal development, it is evident that children have a strong sense of individualism and wellbeing (Paulus, 2014, p.84). Over time, he was able to develop a unique sense of self-identity that was accompanied by independence and autonomy. In this developmental case, Finn was able to grow in all domains by engaging and learning from teachers and peers. This is consistent with Machado’s (2011) findings that by providing enough support and encouragement to children at the developmental stage, there is a high likelihood of enabling them to connect and contribute to the world around them (p. 49). Finn developed to be confident and involved learner during the period and was able to acquire a range of skills such as experimentation, hypothesizing, investigating, researching, manipulating, problem-solving, and inquiry. Therefore, Rita Gold’s mixed-age group program should be widely adopted by other early childhood centers because it supports better development as younger children can learn from older children in the development of the four major developmental domains. In return, older children learn compassion, empathy, and other socioemotional and cognitive functions associated with taking care of younger children.
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