Holistic development in early childhood deals with a much wider scope of factors than simply the normal physiological development of skills and knowledge in young children. Many factors, such as social and cultural environments, physical environments, and the spiritual beliefs of parents and caregivers all influence early childhood development. Issues such as poverty, exposure to diseases or pathogens, proper prenatal care and education of parents, political or civil unrest, and other conditions affect how children develop in their early years. Communities, government agencies, parents, and educators play an important role in encouraging holistic development through programs, services, and educational initiatives.
To understand holistic development in early childhood, it is first necessary to understand what constitutes early childhood. Many professionals consider this stage to begin during pregnancy and continue until the child reaches school age. Other professionals consider it to mean birth through age eight. Regardless of the specific age range, early childhood development represents a time of tremendous physical, psychological, and cognitive change that can be greatly affected by both internal and external factors.
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Young children typically follow a standard path of physiological development, learning how to sit up, crawl, walk, recognize people and objects, affect changes in their environment, and problem solve. As the child develops, he also learns how to communicate, respect boundaries, and generally navigate in the world around him. Outside influences, such as the availability of prenatal care and access to basic healthcare after birth, can greatly influence how easily a child moves from one physiological stage of development to the next. Lack of clean drinking water, for example, affects the cognitive development of a child. Poor education of young parents can create unnecessary neglect and a lack of the important emotional bonds that help a child reach his full learning potential later in life.
Typically, when discussing holistic development in early childhood, the focus is on community infrastructure and educational environments. Governments and local agencies provide the needed infrastructure for children by educating parents from pregnancy through the primary grades, providing access to community healthcare programs and initiatives, and supplying early childhood education. Educators contribute by formulating curricula that consider social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive factors for school-age children in primary grades.
By taking a holistic approach to early childhood development, parents, caregivers, educators, and community leaders help children reach their full potential during the formative early years. Outside influences affect not only a child's physical development but also his emotional and social development. All of these factors must be considered in order for children to have the best possible chance at a successful future, with all of their physical and cognitive abilities, good emotional health, and effective educational opportunities.