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Five critical domains define early childhood development

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | June 21, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — The first five years of children’s lives are critical in their development as they reach numerous milestones – from sitting up, crawling and walking in the first year of their lives to hopping and climbing by the time they are 5 years old.

However, their development is not just measured by what they can accomplish physically.

“There are five critical domains in a child’s development,” said Dianna Fryer, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Child Development Program training and curriculum specialist. “Those domains are social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language.”

The five critical domains inform the JBSA CDPs’ approach to early childhood education, but they also can provide a blueprint for parents as they facilitate their children’s development.

“Parents can address the social, emotional, cognitive and language domains by interacting with their children through talking, singing, playing, family-style eating, pretend playing and games,” Fryer said. “They can meet their children’s social needs by providing them with opportunities to explore through play groups and sporting activities.”

One of the best ways parents can stimulate their children’s language skills is by reading to them, said Sarah Fisher, JBSA-Randolph CDP director.

“Reading is not only a great way to connect with a child and develop a caring, safe relationship, it is key to introducing them to language,” she said. “Infants and babies learn new sounds and sights daily. They can learn the different sounds as parents change their voice for a character or to show excitement or sadness.”

Children begin to learn the emergent literacy skills of holding a book, the sound of fluent reading and the direction of reading as they grow into toddlers, Fisher said.

“They can be exposed to a wide variety of experiences in a book they may not be physically able to see,” she said. “Moving into preschool, books continue to teach all these things – letters, sounds, colors, shapes and more. Books can open the world to a child in many ways.”

The physical domain is characterized by the development of fine motor skills, but also by taking part in physical activities outdoors, Fryer said.

“Parents should provide their children with opportunities for outdoor play,” she said. “It’s critical for parents to turn the TV off and take their children outside.”

Parents often worry about their children’s development, especially when they do not reach milestones by a certain age, Fisher said. Language is a common concern.

“If by 2 or 2½ years your child isn’t talking much, it’s important you talk to your doctor,” she said. “Typically, if it’s just your child’s language, and the other domains are fine, there’s no need to be alarmed. We’ve seen children come in here with limited language skills, then start to blossom by being immersed in a social environment.”

However, early intervention for a learning delay is critical, Fisher said. The CDP uses an “Ages and Stages Questionnaire” to solicit parents’ responses to questions about their children’s development.

“It’s a screening tool similar to those used in pediatricians’ offices,” she said. “We use it in a team approach with families to ensure their children are progressing and meeting developmental milestones.”

Fisher said parents need to be honest in their responses on the ASQ and on pediatricians’ screening forms so learning delays can be addressed.

But it is also important not to measure children by the same timelines for reaching milestones, Fryer said.

“Not every child develops at the same rate of speed,” she said.
Regardless of how quickly children develop, it is imperative they be engaged in all five critical domains throughout the day, Fryer said. That is because those first five years are when learning comes easiest to them.

“They’re like sponges,” she said. “Their brains absorb everything, so that’s the time to expose children to as much as possible.”