Stages in Child Development (from Conception to Adolescence) – A Must Read For Teachers and Parents

Unit 1 – Introduction

Development begins with conception. Conception occurs when fertilization creates a zygote, a one celled organism formed by the union of a sperm and an egg.

All of the other cells in the body developed from this single cell. Each of the cells contains enduring messages from your parents carried on the chromosomes that lie within the nucleus.

Each chromosome houses many genes, the functional units in hereditary transmission. Genes carry details of your hereditary blueprints, which are revealed gradually throughout life. (Wayne Weitin 2001).


Unit 2 – Physical Development

Pre-primary period (2-6 years)
There are many remarkable changes during this period especially at the early stage though they tend to level off as child grows older, except the growth spurt of adolescence children during this period grow faster both in absolute and relative terms, size and proportion.

There is a more co-coordinated neuromuscular development during this period and we notice both gross and fine motor co-ordination. Large muscles of leg and arm joints grow making them more prone to injury. Fine motor skills and control of smaller muscles in the fingers are more difficult to be manipulated than the mastery of the gross motor skills which involve large muscles.

By age of four, many children are able to manipulate the smaller muscles. The child’s ability to manipulate things during this period is as a result of daily practice. There may be variation in the physical development of children. It may be due to genetic factors, malnutrition and neglect and severe emotional stress. Malnutrition increases children susceptibility to diseases and it impair, their intellect and affects their motor skills (Edelma 1977)

Primary school period (6-12years)
During this period, growth is more uniform than it was during the pre-primary stage. There is gradual increase in both height and weight. The weight gain at this time is basically a result of growth in muscle and bone tissues. There is a noticeable growth difference between boy and girls during the stage.

Between ages of 9-10 years, girls experience growth spurt while boys experience growth spurt anytime from age 12. Girls retain more fatty tissues which leave their bodies softer and with more rounded contours, boys on the other hand become more muscular and angular.

One significant change that takes place during this period is the loss of baby teeth and by age 12, the more permanent teeth have developed. Typically, girls loose their teeth earlier than boys.

Secondary School Period (12 years and above)
Adolescence is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a period marked with accelerated growth. The remarkable and obvious physical changes during this period are usually in height, weight and body.

These changes are quite closely controlled and at the same time, integrated by the central nervous system (CNS) and the endocrine (hormonal) system. Adolescent growth spun in girls begins at about ages 9-11 and reaching a peak at 12 or 13 years, it slowly declines and completely ceases between ages 15-18 whereas for boys, ¡t starts about two years later than the case for girls and also lasts longer. The growth spurt in boys stalls between the ages of 11 and 14 peaking at age 15 and gradually declining until about 20 or 21 years of age.

The basic physical changes that take place in girls are
a) The deposition or addition of fats on the hips;
b) The development of breasts;
e) The pelvis is widened; and
d) The appearance of hair on pubic region and the armpit.

The physical changes that take place in boys are mainly
a) The appearance of hairs in the pubic region, face (beard and moustache) and armpit;
b) Voice change becomes deep;
e) Enlargement of the larynx with the appearance of “Adam’s apple; and
d) Increase in size of the external genitals.


Unit 3 – Cognitive Development

The child’s physical development has a direct relationship with his intellectual or cognitive development. Specific cognitive abilities develop largely due to interaction between inherent and innate capacities and environmental experiences which is closely related to other changes – social or emotional. There are two basic approaches to understanding cognition.

  1. The Cognitive developmental approach which emphasizes the Piagetian Viewpoint of Intra-individual change. This means that the same child’s thinking changes as he develops.
  2. The Psychometric Viewpoint whose main thrust is individual differences. This implies that children of the same age differ from one another in their ability to perform some intellectual measures. (Osareren 2001)

(i) Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget has contributed immensely to our understanding of cognitive development. The uniqueness of mental abilities of a certain child from his age mate or even sonic other children younger than him are essentially cognitive structures. This depends on the stages of cognitive functioning. It equally determines what the child can assimilate at any particular time. Children at different age range usually exhibit cognitive structures, which are quantitatively, and remarkably different from other children of different age range, they think differently. Their assimilation and accommodation of cognitive structures is determined by adaptation to environment. Nevertheless, their rate of progress at the different age range or stage cannot change remarkably or radically as a result of specific instruction. They have to mature and most importantly be ready for the next stage.

(ii) Piaget’s Stage Theory
There are four stages of cognitive development according to Jean Piaget. Each of the stage is assigned a specific age range. The chronological ages designated and specified for each of the stages arc as follows:

Sensori motor stage 0-2 years
Preoperational stage 2-7 years
Concrete operational stage 7-11 years
Formal operational stage 11-15 years

The main activities of each of the above listed stages are summarized below:

Season motor stage (0-2 years)
This is the period when a child employs the capacities he is born with i.e. it is primarily reflexes. It is also the period a child achieves conquest of object permanence. Objects move, fall, disappear and also reappear. The child finds all those exciting. If his toy drops, he either cries or simply ignores it. At this stage, he does not know that he can still look down and see the same toy. He explores and learns at the same time.

The child would want to touch some of the objects he has not been able to touch before now. When the child is not able to interact with the physical world, there is a tendency that his physical and emotional development will be affected.

Osarenren (2001) enumerated the six distinct stage boundaries associated with this period as follows:

  1. a) Modification of reflexes (0-1 month): Most of the behaviours exhibited by the child at this level are primarily reflexive and also assimilative e.g. sucking the thumb
  2. b) Primary circular Reactions (1-4 months): During this period, manifestation of acquired behaviour is noticeable in a child. There is better coordination of the earlier activities e.g. thumb to mouth. The child may follow an object presented to him with his eyes but once it is out of sight, he losses interest in the object.
  3. c) Secondary circular reactions (4-8 months): The child is able to extend his ability at coordination of other objects in his environment. He will be able to identify objects based on some clues e.g. the arrival of mother or father in the evening by the sound of the doorbell or car. These secondary circular reactions make room for occurrence of viability and provision of the basis for awareness of one’s abilities through reality testing.
  4. d) Coordination of secondary circular reactions. (8-12 months): A child will show a more definite coordination of two schemata i.e. the child had the mental skills to understand new varying skills. At this stage, he is able to search for an object that has disappeared which he could not achieve before this age. This only happens when the child has had a considerable interaction with his environment.
  5. e) Tertiary Circular Reactions (12-18 months): During this phase, a child exhibits some degree of inventiveness in his ability at coordination. For instance, if a toy is taken away from him and kept in a place beyond his reach, he will seriously search for it until he is able to locate it.
  6. f) Beginning of Representational thought (18-24 months): This phase marks the eventual completion of the previous phases. He could imitate someone very well even when the person is not around. He is able to store a proper mental picture of behaviour which he will imitate later. Therefore, at the end of this sensori-motor stage, a child has the ability to use symbolic behaviour.

Pre-Operational Stage (2-7 years)
This is a very important period for menial development. The child achieves conquest of symbols. It is during this period that language and vocabulary are developed. The child is able to report what happened to him to his parent. He learns that every object has a name and that name stands for many properties of objects.

Children learn of good and had behaviour at this stage they only appreciate rules and their consequences on behaviour. They do not yet have mental capacity to consider the motives for judging good or bad behaviours. Children at this stage are fascinated with symbolization especially among 3 or 4 year old. They give name to things and ¡t makes meaning to them.

They have the problem of classification. For instance, if fruits like guava, mango, paw –paw etc are put together; they see each as an entity i.e., Paw- paw cannot be represented as fruit to them. This means that they can only handle one dimension at a time.

Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)
This is when there is conquest of reasoning by children. There is an interaction of cognitive skills and experience used in the performance of logical process of thought. He is able to internalize actions that will enable him to think about what he would have done by manipulating objects. He is able to perform reasoning operations and is able to follow instructions step by step.

The mental ability at this period includes class inclusion, conservation and serial ordering e.g. all dogs are animals and not all animals are dogs. He can deduce that seeds planted the same day may not grow equally because of some reasons like nature of soil, in a nutshell, his mental ability shows an improvement over the pre-operational Stage.

Formal Operational Stage (11-15 years)
During this period, the nature of abstract thoughts and logical reasoning is achieved. This stage is very important to parents and teachers because the child have the ability to recognize hypotheses and assimilate assumptions, concepts, theories, relationships and so on. He can also verify the result of his reasoning and at the same time is able to review his reasoning process. He can also express ideas in symbols which may not be linked or tied to physical works experiences,

The key patterns of reasoning at this stage are:

(1) Combinational Reasoning
(2) Proportional Reasoning
(3) Probabilistic Reasoning
(4) Correlational Reasoning

Combinational Reasoning: There is proper consideration of all possible relation of experimental or theoretical condition in a very systematic and orderly manner.

Proportional Reasoning: A child recognizes and at the same time interprets relationships that exist in any given situation that is described in observable or abstract terms.

Probabilistic Reasoning: The child recognizes the fact that natural phenomena are probabilistic. Therefore, before any conclusion or explanatory models are made, the probabilistic dimension has to be considered.

Co-relational Reasoning: A child is able to decide whether events are i-elated and can go together. They also understand that there might be some differences and the relationships may not always turn out to be so.


Unit 4 – Social Development

As children change physically and develop their cognitive skills, they also become more aware of whom they are. They get socialized through their family members and significant others into the societal values, norms and morals. The process of socialization begins early in life and it is a lifelong process (Osarenren 2001).

Bonding occurs in children and their mother and later extends to other members of the family. This is strengthening when the child’s basic needs like food etc., are met. If babies are not securely attached and they lack social bond, it affects the child’s social behaviour. The parents play a fundamental role in the socialization and discipline of their children.

Friends are also seen as momentary physical play mates. They make friends with other children of their age in their neighbourhood, which are called peers. The influence of peers on child development is very crucial and has far reaching effect on the personality development of the child.

Apart from parents and peers, children also get socialised into societal norms and values by teachers. When the child gets to school, he does not attach importance to the sex of his play mates but from age 8-10 sex becomes an important issue and boys choose to play with boys while girls will play with themselves.

Unit 5 – Emotional Development

Emotional development involves a person’s awareness and the expression of an affective experience. This affective experience might be pleasurable or not. If not pleasurable, it may be mild or intense.

Every individual has emotions and the kinds of emotion we feel play a great role in how we relate with others as well as how we get along with ourselves. When a person experiences unpleasant emotions, most of the time, he becomes an unhappy person.

On the other hand, an individual who experiences pleasant emotions often will lead a relatively happy life. Human beings differ in the ways they experience and handle emotions.

One of the major studies on development of emotional pattern in infants was carried out by Bridges (1932). Her findings and evaluation are still accepted today. The approximation ages when emotions develop during a child’s first two years of life are as follows:

Birth – General state of excitement
3 months – Distress and Delight
6 months – Fear, disgust and anger
12 months – Elation and affection
18 months – Jealousy, affection for other children and adults
24 months – All the emotions mentioned above become permanent in addition to joy

Emotional development is directly related to cognitive development; therefore, further emotional development is linked with perceptual maturation. At the age of three, the child has completed the sensori motor stage of cognitive development. Therefore, he can experience emotions but unfortunately he does not have the capability of conceptualizing his emotional experience or those of other people. Crying and anger decrease while laughter increases.

Instead of such physical expressions of rage as yelling, biting or even hitting and kicking; verbalization of these emotions is expressed. They also tend to make use of aggression in their bid to achieve a desired goal. For boys there is more reliance on physical combat in expressing emotional displeasure whereas in the case of the girls, they tend to contend with verbal charges.

An interesting aspect of this expression of displeasure by both boys and girls is that seconds after the expression of aggressive behaviour, friendship amongst them resumes. This should be a lesson to parents who sometimes support their children when they fight with other children. Such children soon come together again while their parents may not forgive themselves.

Culled from PDE 106: Psychology of Education – NTI Kaduna


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