Early Childhood Education / Early Years

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Child Development: Overview

Child Development: Overview

All children grow and develop in their own unique way, however there are predictable patterns and sequences. Early childhood is a critical period for development; what happens during this period impacts on short and long term outcomes. The first eight years of life are characterised by rapid brain development and the acquisition of foundation skills and competencies (Unicef, 2014). Such development occurs as a result of the combination of maturation, the biological influence, and learning or how a child’s environment impacts on how they think, feel and behave (Doherty & Hughes, 2013).

Supporting early childhood development and learning in emergency settings is crucial. “A critical gap in humanitarian responses has been observed with regard to mitigating the negative consequences of emergency settings on young children’s overall development. In 2011, an average of 13 percent of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons were children under the age of 5” (Unicef, 2014).

‘Now, a strong case is being made for Early Childhood Development (ECD) to be central within post‐2015 development goals (Aber et al., 2013; UNSDSN, 2014). The core agenda to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ – pointing strongly towards effective strategies for early intervention and prevention: “The evidence is clear, investing in ECD leads to gender equality and empowerment, better health and education outcomes, improved skills, abilities and productivity, narrows the income, ethnic, and geographic inequality gaps, provides timely intervention for persons with disabilities, and is a cost effective strategy for eliminating disadvantage.”  (Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development Task Force for the Post‐2015 Development Agenda, 2012, p. 19) … phases in early childhood are shaped by cultural beliefs and institutional structures, as well as development changes in children’s capacities, vulnerabilities and emerging autonomy; their needs for care, ways of communicating, playing and learning; as well as the patterns of their daily lives in modern societies, including access to ECD services and schools’ (Woodhead, 2014, p.8).

Child Development Patterns and Sequences

Unicef’s Early Childhood Development  Resource (2003, Module 3, doc. 3.9d: Assessing Development in Early Childhood) provides an overview of standards to assess young children’s development in different countries and regions. We recommend you read about the region in which you are working.

The standards within this document have been collated to support the assessment of children’s development and planning to support children in learning knowledge and skills. Unicef emphasise the importance of understanding that these are not set standards rather a template that comes with the expectation that they can be easily adapted and should be ‘modified, changed, and revised so as to suit the specific country needs’ (p.1). The areas of development included are language and literacy; social and emotional development; gross and fine motor skills; logic and reasoning; and approaches to learning.


This simple table of child development is taken from Unicef - https://www.unicef.org/dprk/ecd.pdf

The link below takes you to a guide aims to help parents and educators understand more about child development and behaviour by reflecting on the areas of learning from England’s Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (DfE, 2017).


The following two documents from England provide tables of what children are expected to be doing every few months in the years up to five. We recommend those who are working with young children familiarise themselves with these.

Guidance on children’s learning and development for parents (4Children, 2015)  https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/files/2015/09/4Children_ParentsGuide_Sept_2015v4WEB1.pdf

EYFS Early Years Outcomes (DfE, 2013)– Guide for practitioners - https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/files/2012/03/Early_Years_Outcomes.pdf


Doherty, J., & Hughes, M. (2013). Child Development: Theory to practice 0 – 11. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Woodhead, M. (2014). Early Childhood Development: Delivering inter‐sectoral policies, programmes and services in low‐resource settings. [online] Available from http://oro.open.ac.uk/41552/1/Woodhead%20et%20al%202014%20Early-Childhood-Development-Topic-Guide.pdf

Unicef. (2014). Early Childhood Development in Emergencies: Integrated Programme Guide. [online] Available from https://www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/files/Programme_Guide_ECDiE.pdf