Critical Period In Child Development

Child development is commonly described in terms of critical periods. Learn about the most widely used classification of developmental periods

Development is the pattern of change that begins at conception and continues through the life cycle. For the purposes of organization and understanding, development is commonly described in terms of periods. The most widely used classification of developmental periods involves the following sequence: the prenatal period, infancy, early childhood, middle and late childhood, and adolescence. Approximate age ranges are placed on the periods to provide a general idea of when a period first appears and when it ends.

The prenatal period is the time from conception to birth. It is a time of tremendous growth-from a single cell to an organism, complete with a brain and behavioral capabilities, produced in approximately a nine-month period.

Infancy is the developmental period that extends from birth to eighteen to twenty-four months. Infancy is a time of extreme dependence on adults. Many psychological activities are just beginning- language, symbolic thought, sensorimotor coordination, and social learning, for example.



Early childhood is the developmental period that extends from the end of infancy to about five to six years; sometimes the period is called the preschool years. During this time young children learn to become more self-sufficient and to care for themselves, they develop school readiness skills (following instructions, identifying letters), and they spend many hours in play and with peers. First grade typically marks the end of this period.

Middle and late childhood is the developmental period that extends from about six to eleven years of age, approximately corresponding to the elementary school years; sometimes the period is called the elementary school years. Children master the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and they are formally exposed to the larger world and its culture. Achievement becomes a more central theme of the child's world, and self-control increases.

Adolescence is the developmental period of transition from childhood to early adulthood, entered approximately at ten to twelve years of age and ending between eighteen and twenty years of age. Adolescence begins with rapid physical changes- dramatic gains in height and weight; changes in body contour; and the development of sexual characteristics such as enlargement of the breasts, development of pubic and facial hair, and deepening of the voice. At this point in development, the pursuit of independence and an identity are prominent. Thought is more logical, abstract, and idealistic. More and more time is spent outside of the family during this period. Today, develpmentalists do not believe that change ends with adolescence. They describe development as a lifelong process.

Some people believe that children's development is due more to maturation (nature, heredity), while others believe it has more to do with experience (nurture, environment). Also, there is debate over whether development is more continuous and smooth or more discontinuous and stage-like. Furthermore, some believe that development has more to do with early experience while others believe it has more to do with late experience. The interplay of biological (changes in an individual's physical nature), cognitive (changes in an individual's though, intelligence, and language), and socioemotional (changes in an individual's relationships with other people, emotions, and personality) processes produce the periods of development.

© High Speed Ventures 2011