by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
From the moment of birth, children begin exploring their new world
by touching, smelling, tasting, listening, observing, and playing. Through this
constant exploration, they are rapidly developing the “domains” of their physical
and mental abilities. The simplest of activities at every age level promotes
stimulation and growth in their cognitive, social, language, and physical (fine and
gross motor) skills. These four domains develop all at the same time.
Cognitive Development is learning and processing of information – our
thinking and knowing. Cognition involves language, imagination, thinking,
reasoning, problem solving, and memory. Our cognitive skills help us organize
what we know and generalize that knowledge into other areas. School teachers understand how children
learn and process information; therefore, they can recognize a breakdown in cognition. When a red flag
appears, teachers may refer a child for an evaluation to pinpoint the breakdown – and the sooner, the
better. This child may have a learning disability or some other deficit that needs attention. Help your child
develop cognitive skills from an early age by having him/her work with puzzles, blocks, peg games, card
games, patterns, and cause and effect activities.
Language Development is learning to express ourselves in order to communicate with others.
We learn to express ourselves by learning sounds, combining those sounds into meaningful words, and
putting words together into sentences to communicate our thoughts. Then we are able to interpret sounds
from others. Talking to our children before they can talk, engaging children in conversation (even when
they are just beginning to talk), and exposing children to books and reading to them are instrumental
in developing later literacy and language skills. Reading, talking, and singing to children from birth, and
providing books and language videos or DVDs for them when they are older will help children develop
important language skills.
Social Development is learning to like ourselves and to get along with others. Being in an active
environment teaches us to share, take turns, accept the differences in others, include others in play/
conversation, and the list goes on. Just by watching others interact, children learn valuable social skills.
That is why the examples we set and the behaviors we display are important. Children are always watching
and copying what they see others do.
Unfortunately, some children may develop serious emotional or personality problems at some
point. These problems include symptoms of extreme anxiety, withdrawal, and fearfulness; or, on the
other hand, disobedience, aggression, and destruction of property. If parents suspect their child’s social
development is not going well (compared to his/her peers), discuss your observations with your family
doctor or school counselor. From an early age, having your child interact with other children and adults as
much as possible is the best way to help him/her develop socially. Playing games, having conversations in
the car or at the dinner table, playing with friends, having parties, going out to eat, etc. are all invaluable
ways to foster social development.
Physical Development falls into two categories – fine motor and gross motor
skills. Fine Motor skills are activities occurring with the fingers in coordination with the
eyes, such as reaching, grasping, releasing, and turning the wrist. These small muscle
movements don’t develop overnight, but with time and practice. Fine motor skills help us
perform tasks for daily living, such as dressing, eating, toileting and washing. In the early
childhood years, children become independent and learn to dress and undress themselves
without assistance; use utensils for eating; and pour liquid without assistance.
The fingers learn to move in harmony and become strong enough to fasten
buttons and snaps; and movement in the wrists helps take care of toileting.
Activities to promote fine motor control include: putting together
puzzles with small pieces, peg board games, painting, drawing, cutting,
stringing and lacing activities, construction and building sets like Legos®,
Lincoln Logs®, buttons, snaps, and tying.
Gross Motor Development involves the larger muscles in the arms,
legs, and torso. Gross motor activities include walking, running, throwing,
lifting, kicking, etc. These skills relate to body awareness, reaction speed, balance, and strength. Gross
motor development allows your child to move and control his/her body in different ways. It promotes your
child’s confidence and self-esteem and allows the body to perform multiple demands beyond simple muscle
At home or in the classroom environment, have children practice: walking on their toes or heels;
walking with toes pointed in or out; walking or moving like a certain animal (crab, worm, bear, bunny,
frog, elephant, gorilla, kangaroo, etc.); playing kickball, tetherball, volleyball, basketball, or skating;
swinging, sliding, climbing on monkey bars, or playing on a tire swing; balancing while walking along
a curb; walking forward, backward, sideways, and heel-to-toe; walking while balancing a book on the
head; jumping, hopping, crawling, rolling, doing jumping jacks, and jumping over obstacles. Participating
in sports groups help develop gross motor skills as well as cognition, as many sports require thinking and
planning where and what their body needs to do next.