Written by Laurie Lafortune
When your child participates in a group setting for the first time, be it child care, preschool or kindergarten, that’s often when you notice other children’s skills and abilities and can’t help but think about how your own child compares. In kindergarten, you may notice that some children have very large vocabularies, while others seem less developed in their speech. Some children can talk clearly, while other kids’ words are very hard to understand. Some children will be printing letters and drawing and colouring detailed pictures, while others are holding a pencil in a fist-like grip and do not attempt to draw or print. Some children will seem physically talented, and can throw and kick a ball, balance well and climb on playground equipment with ease. Others seem less coordinated in their movements. Some will be able to put on their own jackets and boots, while others struggle.
The areas of development include physical, (which includes fine and gross motor skills), cognitive or intellectual development, social skills, emotional development, and language or communication skills. A child who is developing appropriately for his age in these five areas is more likely to be able to meet the challenges of group settings such as preschool, day care and kindergarten. A child who starts school ready to learn is more likely to continue to do well. Many studies have shown that children who do well in kindergarten continue to succeed in the early grades and are more likely to complete high school.
But how does a parent know what is typical? There is such a range of abilities in children-and you wonder, is my kid doing okay?
Parent educators and health care professionals recommend that parents be aware of developmental milestones, which are a set of skills or tasks that most children do within a certain age range. Parents who know the developmental milestones will be able to tell if their child is developing within the typical age range for various tasks. For example, you would expect an infant to smile at two months of age. Walking develops anywhere between 9 and 15 months. By 12 months, a baby can say at least one word, and by 18 months, a toddler usually can say 15 words. Parents should avoid comparing their child with others or with older siblings, because every child is an individual and develops at their own pace. But if your child is not doing things that are expected by the older age limit for the developmental milestone, you should talk to your health professional about your concerns. If your child does have a delay, it’s always best to work on the area of development as soon as possible-the earlier the intervention, the better.
Regularly provide opportunities for your child for active physical play, interaction with other children and adults, lots of reading and conversation, and play materials that encourage exploration and problem solving. Parenting resources are available from health clinics, your doctor, and on line that outline typical development with suggestions for activities parents can provide to encourage various skills.