How comfortable are you with your understanding of your child’s development? Does your child ever do something that makes you wonder, “What on earth is going on in his head?” or “What happened to the child who always did _____? She seems like a completely different kid overnight!”
I was a Child Development major in college (and I have a graduate degree in Elementary Education…), and even I have to admit that my memory of all that I learned about how children grow, learn, and change so many years ago seems rocky at times. Fortunately, researchers have given us many wonderful resources, full of information that provides parents and teachers a small window into what’s happening in children’s brains.
And y’all, I refer to these resources ALL THE TIME. As a teacher, I owned a handful of these books and gave brochures with pertinent information to my students’ parents at the beginning of each year. As a parent, these have provided me with great comfort when we hit “What in the world is going on?” stages. Read on to see why it’s important to gain an understanding of stages of child development, as well as which resources for understanding stages of child development I love and why!
To begin with, why is understanding child development helpful to parents and teachers? Because in order to best help children grow, we need to have a solid understanding of where they (and their brains) are! Yes, all children are unique and develop at their own unique pace, but research over hundreds of years, across many groups of children and completed by many researchers, shows that child development (physical, social, emotional, language, and cognitive developent) shows predictable patterns. When you know what’s going on with your kiddos, you can not only more appropriately chose activities or set expectations for them, but more importantly, you can also have a more empathetic reaction to the challenges they seem to be facing.
And guess what? Children typically move through stages of development in a predictable order, and at relatively predictable ages. Yes, the exact dates of stages vary from child to child, even within the same house (environment). And yes, the embodiment of each stage also varies from child to child. But, research-based developmental stages do give you a good blueprint, estimate, and rough understanding of what your child might be going through or preparing to learn, therefore allowing you to teach or to parent more effectively.
So, what child development resources do I love?
Oh man, The Wonder Weeks App was a huge mental lifesaver to me when our girls were babies! We’d be in the middle of a tough few days, full of tears and little sleep, and almost without fail, if I pulled the app up to see where my daughters were, they’d be in the middle of a stormy period. I found so much comfort in knowing that my children weren’t alone (and that maybe, eventually, they’d stop crying for a bit!). Yes, there is a Wonder Weeks book, but let’s be honest… an app is much easier for a new parents to navigate than a whole book!
But alas, we grew out of The Wonder Weeks… Fortunately, I’ve got two other resources for you as your children get older! Most links for purchase below are Amazon Affiliate links.
The Gesell Institute of Human Development Child Development Books
As a third grade teacher, I owned Your Eight Year Old: Lively and Outgoing and Your Nine Year Old: Thoughtful and Mysterious, and I reread them each year at the beginning of the school year, refreshing myself on what third graders might be like at the beginning of the year. As a parent, we’ve been fortunate that our school’s lending library has a set of these books, so I borrow them whenever we hit a “What on earth???” phase. Right now, I’m working my way through Your Seven Year Old: Life in a Minor Key. And I can see our older daughter leaping out at me through the descriptions of a seven year old. I said it above, but it’s just so reassuring to know that rocky times are normal developmentally and not a sign that we’ve somehow broken our child! These are extremely easy reads, but incredibly thorough, so they’re perfect resources for busy parents and teachers.
This series of books is published through The Gesell Institute, one of my favorite resources for child development information. Their research shows that growth and development isn’t always even and smooth; in fact, periods of equilibrium (nice and easy) alternate with period of disequilibrium (stormy and rough) throughout childhood. Maybe the chart below will make you feel better if your child falls in a range of disequilibrium right now!
Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14
Yardsticks is another book I referred to regularly as a teacher. In fact, we’d order the Yardsticks grade-level brochures to give to parents at Back to School Night each year. Geared more towards teachers and understanding children in a classroom setting, the book typical growth patterns across a variety of areas (physical development; social and emotional development; communication, language, and literacy; and cognitive capacity), as well as how these growth patterns relate to learning in reading, writing, math, and social students/languages/science/specials classes. Yardsticks also includes handy appendices of resources for educators (covering child developoment, culture and development, and neuroscience and development) and parents. Each chapter is only 10-15 pages long, so this one’s also an easy read and one you can refer to year after year.
Is it just me, or does anyone else geek out over developmental research like this? If so, what are your favorite resources?