Birth marks an important milestone in a child’s life. However when we say Birth to 3 years, we are considering the 9 months of gestation inclusive of it. During pregnancy the child develops at a physical level. With each passing month, the capacities of the child are increasing and evolving. This goes to say that the child is already born with all the powers and potentialities, to grow into a fully developed human being at the physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual as well as social and spiritual levels.
The child in the first 3 years of life has been blessed with immense powers ad potentialities. The capacity of creating the man from the child lies within the child himself. All that is required from parents, is to provide an environment which is suitable for the child’s budding powers and which would support the child’s development to the optimum level.
Some of the important powers and potentialities the child has in the first 3 years are:
1) The Absorbent Mind – A special mind, unique to the formative years, which has the capacity to absorb and retain anything and everything it is surrounded by.
2) Sensitive Periods – Special age ranges during which one particular development is at a peak.
3) Human Tendencies – Propensities or inclination towards the fulfillment of basic needs which are in favour of survival and the development of the human being.
“Birth till 3 is most critical time in the Neuron Development of a child.”
Childs neural activities begin from when he is as young as a 10 week old embryo. Then the nerve cells develop in the womb, later specialising into the different organs. After the child is born he is taking in every single detail through his senses and through the absorbent mind. In the beginning the child is not selecting what he takes into his brain. He also does not categorise it once it has gone in. We don’t see what is happening but things are happening and all that is around is going into the brain. Thus educating the new born is of great importance.
The first 2 years of the childs life are very very critical. He has potentials in himself that determine his development. He has great mental capacities- more than we can imagine. Thus it is at this stage that the mother’s (and father’s) care is crucial for the childs brain development. “By the age of 3, the child has already laid down the foundations of his personality as a human being” – Dr. Maria Montessori.
Hence from the time the child is born talking to him as we would to another adult is important. His brain is responding to the sounds produced around him. Then the brain is developing a memory. After this he begins to imitate the words and sounds he hears around. So saying “look at the bow wow” is not helping him. Instead saying, “look at the dog” is beneficial. When the child is around 2 years, the brain even begins to recognise people and remember faces.
Every outcome we see as development of the child is connected to the brain. All outcomes in the form of movements; weather it is the hand to hold, the mouth to talk or feet to walk. This is all in some way a response to what he has taken in and is responding by imitating to be a part of people around him.
Language Development – Birth – 3 years
“The child can learn up to 7 languages in the first 6 years of life”
Language development is one of the important milestones which the child accomplishes in the early years. It is one of the aspects of his personality and a human function which allows him to understand his world and express himself.
Knowing the language of the environment around you makes you a part of it. It makes you part of the culture. This achievement for a child is great. It makes him feel like he belongs. Now he can share ideas with people whom he just stared at and now he can imitate them. This does not come to the child overnight. It is a lot of continuous work. He does not ever stop. It is a huge effort, but he takes it with great ease and joy of learning. He has been give the gifts of the absorbent mind and sensitive periods to help him.
At birth the only sound that the human baby makes is ‘crying’. Within a short time these sounds become more accurate and precise. The sound patterns are now classified into grunting, screaming, squeaking with joy etc.
At this time the childs eyes become more focussed and he spends all his time staring at the mouth of any adult speaking around him. He is fascinated by what causes the sound. He sees that it binds people together. The child wants to imitate. So, the better our speech the better the childs absorption of our language.
Soon the speech organs develop and as a result the child begins to make sounds. Initially they are mostly vowel sounds, and sooner consonant sounds are added to his expression. Universally all children utter these sounds, which are termed mechanical babble.
When the child is around 9 months, he seems to focus his attention towards the typical sounds found in his environment. Even as he was practicing the syllables, he has been taking in sounds of the language spoken around him. The output of the sounds slowly narrows down towards the sounds found in his language.
By 12 months: the child has understood the meanings of the words. The child says his first ‘intentional’ word. He uses the word to get something. He still babbles, but with some meaning attached to it.
By 1 ½ years the child starts using many nouns. He forms phrases but without any regard to grammar. He often fuses two words to form a single word which does not have any meaning. He continues this till he is about a year and 9 months old.
After this he can say phrases with few words. His vocabulary has grown since the time that he was only using nouns.
By 2 years of age: usually the child experiences an explosion of words and speech.
“At birth the only movement is suckling. By 3 he can run. What a great feat!”
Humans move so that they can go from one place to another thus adapting to their environment. This is true even for children. The child develops his movement on a predefined path, but at his own pace- different from another child. The child pushes himself from within to practise and acquire co-ordinated movements.
At birth a new born moves his arms and legs continuously. He also moves his mouth to suckle and eyes to blink. Between the first and second month he gains control of his head. He is weak and always needs support.
By the third and fourth month after birth movements increase. If he is left on his stomach he can lift his head and neck to look around. So allowing the baby to lie on the floor on his stomach helps his development.
Soon, at 6 months the child can sit up with help and then gradually on his own.
Then the child can crawl and begins to pull himself up with the help of sturdy furniture.
By one year and a few months the child begins to walk. Firstly he does this only on his toes. He finally begins to walk when his heels touch the floor. Most of the child’s efforts go into walking and eventually climbing.
In his second year he is running unsteadly. His hand is also gradually able to hold things with certainty.
And when this child is 3 years is now a walking, running. He has come a long way from a baby who just lay on his back and could barely move.
“Sensitive Periods last only for a certain time in the childs life. “
Children have what Montessori called “Sensitive Periods”. These are periods in the childs life when he has an immense interest in particular areas and that aid his development. This is a time when the child is engrossed in the work he does and develops concentration and does not feel fatigue. If the child is not allowed to explore his sensitive periods; Or if for some reason there was an obstacle in his course, the child is distressed. He is often termed as a ‘naughty child’.
Children have sensitivity to:
1 Language (Birth to 6 years) – he wants to learn the language around him. He is capable of learning several languages at this stage in his development. Speaking to a child with ‘correct’ speech is a great boon.
2 Movement (Birth to 6 years) – The child wants to gain independence through his movements and is making all efforts to hold, walk and fend for himself. At this time we must try to give him every opportunity we can so he can hold, run, walk, climb ect.
3 Social Behaviour (2- 5 years) – He is trying to learn all the nuances of the culture of people around .him. We must give the child opportunities to be a part of our lives and do as we do. Doing what we want the child to do and say is most important.
4 Refinement of senses (2 – 2 ½ years)- It is a short lived sensitivity when the child is interested in everything to do with the senses. He wants to perfect them. Giving him objects that may appeal to the senses is helpful.
5 Order (Birth to 2 years)- When a child is keeping everything in its place, arranging shoes in neat rows and is upset when he does not find an object in its place we know the child is having the sensitive period for order. Keeping all the objects in a order and in its place is a must for children until they are 3 atleast.
6 Small objects (1 ½ – 2 ½ years) – This is when the child is attracted to the tinnest speck on the floor or in a corner. He is developing his sight and interest in minute details that we may miss. This is nature’s way of guiding the child’s mind.
“Allowing the child to be independent is the greatest gift we can give him. “
The first step of the child’s path to independence is birth. He was first attached to his mother and was dependent on her for everything; air, water, food ect. When he is born he begins to breath, eat his own food and digest it. But he is still dependent on he for food, security and love to name a few. Gradually when he focuses his eyes it is a step towards independence.
Next the child moves his head and is able to hold itself in an upright position to look at the world around him. This is a huge step for the child independence. The world is much bigger when he can look around and not just up.
Weaning the child away from his mother is again a step towards independence. When he is able to take in different foods and can start chewing are all steps away from his mother.
At around 9 months the child begins crawling. He begins to babble and is getting ready to speak his first word. At the age of one he is able to walk with support. This is because of the cerebellum growth which continues till he is about a year and a half. The childs skeleton has also hardened helping him walk. During this time his spinal nerves are also complete conveying messages to his brain.