Child Development

Child Development


"The toddler is already in a rush - pushing her even faster to live up to our expectations can only give her a feeling of failure, resulting in a lowered self-esteem and difficult behavior. "

-- Naomi Aldort, Parenting Counselor,
Toddlers, to Tame or Trust

 "I believe that chronic exposure to stress inhibits full brain development."

-- Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., Smart Moves:
 Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head.

"Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it themselves."

-- Jean Piaget




The Basics of Child Development

Researchers in the fields of brain development, psychology, and education are all coming to the same conclusion: what happens in the first 3 years of a child's life are far more critical than we had realized.  Children who don't receive sufficient nurturing, nutrition, and opportunity for movement and intellectual stimulation simply do not develop to the same fullness of potential as those children who do.  Furthermore, children who are over-stimulated -- rushed from one activity to another, or pushed to "perform" to satisfy the self-esteem of adults are also inhibited from reaching their full potential, because they are robbed of the experience of "self-directed" exploration and the opportunity to develop a deeper awareness of their own feelings and desires.

Below you will find links and articles to help you educate yourself (and those you know) about this important time in a child's life.   Our special focus pages will help you handle such challenges as potty training and bed wetting, developing good sleep patterns, nutrition needs and eating issues, and  health and safety -- as well as special needs kids.    While some information and links will apply to the needs of older children, we suggest you also check out the Earth's Kids pages Guidance & Positive Discipline as well as The Healthy Child for more on the development of school age children and teens. 

Please note that when children are expected to perform at a level far beyond their developmental stage and are therefore physically punished or repeatedly shamed and ridiculed they are essentially being abused.  We ask all caregivers and teachers to educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of child abuse and to take action when they suspect abuse.  Visit our child abuse information page for instructions and useful links about detecting and anonymously reporting child abuse.  Be informed!




Piaget's Theory of Child Development

Although our understanding of child development has certainly come a long way since Jean Piaget studied and taught on the subject more than 50 years ago, his insights were so profound that they continue to inform the basis of our theories even today.  In our modern world where parents and teachers are often encouraged to push children to tackle ever more complicated concepts and skills at earlier and earlier ages, it's worth slowing down for a moment and informing ourselves about the way children acquire and process information. 

The basic insight of Piaget on this subject was that there are some skills that children cannot master before they have mastered certain others, and that brain development can only be hurried so much.

Essentially, he showed scientifically that children have certain distinct phases of seeing the world and thinking about it at different age stages.  Furthermore, these stages were much more independent of upbringing than had been realized -- that is, they were governed by biological/physiological parameters, not simply quality of education.  Read more about this.

What's more, Piaget's work gave us our first insight into what subsequent researchers have shown irrefutably:  children must have lots of "hands-on" exploration of the world around them in order to make full use of their developing intellectual faculties.  Or put another way, our physical exploration of life and our daily life experience (in which we observe cause and effect over and over and over) lays the groundwork for our ability to form more abstract ideas.

 For example, as adults we can make predictions about the consequences of our behavior because we have built up lots of experience upon which we can draw.  The more experience we have, the more accurate our predictions will be (in a perfect world, at least).    Similarly, in the area of language development, we can string words together in new ways because we have listened to words used in so many ways by those around us. 

But what we often don't realize is how so many of our "taken for granted" skills are made up of other simpler skills and understandings.  For example to drive a car we must not only understand the legal rules of the road and some basic mechanical principles about braking and steering, but we must also master some very subtle skills of judging distance versus speed and acceleration.  We must have extensive awareness of what other drivers on the road are likely to do, and how road conditions are likely to change in different kinds of weather or lighting.   Over time we develop a feel for how much time and physical space is required to make a successful lane change at high speeds in traffic, or to stop in time on a slippery road.  Most importantly, these are not skills we can acquire however by reading a book, nor even by having another person simply explain them to us.   They require life experience and a learned ability to juggle certain sensory input in a meaningful way -- while at the same time disregarding other sensory input that would only confuse and overwhelm us (a song on the radio, children bickering in the back seat, billboards along the road).

And this is just the way it works in the cognitive development of a toddler, or even a school age child. It takes time and experience to learn to juggle all the sensory input and make sense of it, and to coordinate it with his developing body of knowledge and physical coordination.  Furthermore, there is a value in letting the child mull things over for himself, construct his own theories and try them out.  If we merely fill a child's head with facts, we stifle intellectual curiosity and creativity.   And facts that have no grounding in his personal experience, or no solid relation to what he already understands, cannot be grasped or retained in any meaningful fashion. 

 Knowing this, and knowing that each child is a little different, we can rest assured that we are right to be patient with our children's development.  That is, we take note but don't panic when they have yet to master a desired skill or awareness.  (We can always consult a teacher or pediatrician about the need, or way, to assist or intervene.)

And furthermore, we can know that the best way to help them in the process of making sense of the world around them, is to let them expand into it.  Allow them the time and relative serenity to explore through their physical senses, and to make the mental connections that will eventually help them master higher level concepts.  At the same time, we must provide a gentle stream of new experiences and opportunities for exploration. In short, we must neither overwhelm them with sights, sounds, and things to do and learn, nor leave them floundering in sensory and intellectual deprivation while the innate urge to explore and experience is stifled and frustrated.  

The way we accomplish this balance, is by educating ourselves about our child's current stage of development (and the one that is upcoming), by opening ourselves to fun ideas for creative play or exploration, and by paying attention to feelings, both our own and those of our child.  Feelings provide important signals and signposts that let us know when to forge ahead, and when to ease up.  In addition, respecting these feelings provides important role modeling that will help our child understand how to navigate life's challenges, both large and small.




Earth's Kids Special Focus Pages


Potty Training

A natural part of human development, toilet learning often gives kids, and parents, real trouble.  Check this page for an introduction to Potty Training, handling nighttime dryness and bedwetting, plus links to more articles on this important subject.

Food & Nutrition

Proper nutrition is necessary for healthy physical and cognitive development.  But it's not always easy to get kids to eat what they should.  This page handles this important issues along with prevent choking in young children and handling obesity and eating disorders.


Very few things go as smoothly as they could without a good night's sleep.  Kids "lose it" over the littlest things.  And parents make choices they later laugh -- or cry -- about.  And as if this weren't enough, a child has a hard time progressing through those developmental milestones when he's falling asleep in his rice cereal.  Check out our collection of articles and advice for helping your child develop good sleep habits.


Health & Safety

Health and safety challenges can have a major impact on a child's physical, emotional, and intellectual development.  Part of our job as parents and educators is to know how to handle these challenges appropriately so that kids can learn and play safely and freely.  Surf this page for articles and links to help you be prepared.

Special Needs

As many parents and teachers know from experience, children often have special challenges that need to be taken into consideration with planning curriculum and applying safety and discipline policies.  Surf this section for resources to help you meet the needs of the particular children in your care, or to create a classroom and curriculum that works for children with special needs.






Ages & Stages -- Toddlers

Nice overview on the development of one and two year olds!

General Developmental Sequence -- Toddler through Preschool

An overview of the the phases and stages of development that children pass through in the toddler and preschool years.  Outlines typical abilities and behaviors in physical, social, emotional, and intellectual areas of development.   From here you can surf additional articles from Child Development Institute.


Erik Erikson's 8 Stages of the Life Cycle

An excellent article laying out the 8 stages, their crises and desired positive outcome or resolution. Helpful for understanding what basic social skill/emotional quality a toddler, child, or teen is working to master in their stage of development.   With such clues in hand we can work with our children, rather than always feel pitted against them in the battle of wills.  And when this happens, we all win!

How Can We Strengthen Children's Self-Esteem?
by Lilian Katz

Feeling good about ourselves, feeling confident in our abilities to master challenges (or to love ourselves when we don't)  helps us do better socially, emotionally, and intellectually -- all through life.  If we want to have happier families and empower our children to fuller competence and creativity,  understanding self-esteem is a critical part of the formula.   This exceptionally well-written and informative article is of value to parents, care providers, and teachers. Find out exactly how self-esteem is shaped and how it can be positively nurtured in children of all ages.

Six Stages To A Strong Self Image
By Stanley L. Greenspan

An excellent article on the topic by well-known child development researcher Stanley L. Greenspan. (Other useful articles about developmental issues to keep in mind while planning curriculum are linked to from this page.)


Through the Years: Emotional Intelligence
 by Lynne S. Dumas, Dr. Kathryn Barnard, Dr. Charles Flatter and Dr. Robert Brooks

This article not only explains why intellectual development is not the only ingredient in a child's future success in life, but also goes through each major stage of development, explaining what elements of "E.Q." the child is developing and what exactly an adult can do to help.


Jean Piaget

He found the secrets of human learning and knowledge hidden behind the cute and seemingly illogical notions of children.  Read why this Swiss philosopher and psychologist was chosen as one of Time magazines 100 most influential people of the century.


Useful Links


Brain & Cognitive Development
A selection of hyperlinked articles, from

Child Development
A selection of hyperlinked articles, from

Emotional & Social Development
A selection of hyperlinked articles, from

I Am Your Child
Child development from prenatal to age 3. Brain development, ages and stages, parenting questions, and a guide to understanding the role and importance of the first three years of life. Discusses the "parent development" that accompanies each stage of
child development!

Parents as Teachers National Center.
A national program to increase parents’ awareness of young children’s development. Check this website to find the chapter nearest you or check out their "tips for parents" section for a brief list of ways to aid a child's development at various stages of infant and toddler hood.

Physical Development
A listing of charts, graphs, and checklists to help you make sense of your child's physical growth and development -- includes such areas as weight, dental development, hearing, vision, head control & other developmental milestones, growth spurts, and Apgar scores. From

Zero to Three
Located in Washington D.C. and founded in 1977 by top developmental experts, this national, nonprofit organization is dedicated to the healthy development of babies and young children -- especially in the first three years of life (the time of greatest growth and human development).   Numerous informative articles on various child-development topics. Be sure to check their "tip of the week".


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Ages & Stages Plus Basic
 Theories of Child Development








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