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Growth, development and learning – what every parent should be aware of.

Can you recall a situation when your kid was quarrelling with other kids? When children quarrel, it is almost impossible to say which aspect of their behaviour is being used. Is it emotional (anger), physical (stamping with rage), language (what they say), or cognitive (what they do)? In order to understand what is going on, it is important to identify who or what made a particular child angry or what started the quarrel. In other words, we must understand the context of their behaviour. That’s not an easy task, and this example sheds great light on how complex the human body and brain are.

The most important thing I’ve learned as a parent, but also through my learning design work, is that the key to understanding human and especially child development is “wholeness”. And wholeness is especially important when we focus on children. We must see children as whole people. Children grow and develop physically, but they are whole human beings from the very start. It is sometimes useful to look at a particular area of child development to check that all is well. However, we must not forget that we are also looking at a whole person.

A child has a physical body, thoughts and ideas, emotions and relationships, talents, strengths and interests, all of which are functioning at the same time. I know from personal experience how easy it is to fall into the trap of stereotyping my own child, and doing so prevents me from seeing my son as an individual.

To effectively manage the way I look at growth, development and learning, I started by first studying each aspect. After this, I considered how the various aspects were intricately linked. So, there is physical growth and physical development. Physical growth means that a child grows in height and weight, whereas physical development means that a child gains skills through being able to control her/his own body. How a child grows depends on the genes and chromosomes that she/he inherits from their parents. Physical development is largely dependent on the learning the child is exposed to.

There is also cognitive development to consider. This is also known as development of the mind or development of the brain, and it is used for recognising, reasoning, understanding and knowing. There is also social and emotional development, which includes disposition and attitudes, selfconfidence and self-esteem, self-control, self-care, forming relationships, awareness of oneself and others. There is moral and spiritual development, and one other aspect is language and communication development.

Here is an example of how these various aspects of development are intricately linked: language development is very closely linked with cognitive development, so a delay in one area usually affects learning in the other. Language development also affects the learning of communication skills and, consequently, of social development and other aspects.

The purpose of this brief overview is to highlight that any development is a process of learning in the brain, and how people learn and develop is complex. To be able to help ourselves and our children enjoy learning, we need to use both approaches. We must remember to look at every aspect of a child’s development, but we must also contextualise it. The most important thing to remember for us as parents is that the process is most profoundly influenced by the child’s cultural environment, the people they meet and the relationships they have with their family members, peers, teachers.

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