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Child Development Theories and Practice

The Scottish Government (2010) has issued national guidelines for adults working with children from pre birth to three years informing them of the four key principles which promote positive outcomes for young children and families. Nine features have been identified to put the key principles into practice. The four key principles are rights of the child, relationships, responsive care and respect.

Research has shown that birth to three years is a critical age for growth and brain development. The Scottish Government (2010 pg 15) note that “Forming and reinforcing connections are the key tasks of early brain development. It is the early experiences and developing relationships that cause the connections in the brain to increase rapidly”. It is essential that staff form warm and respective relationships with young children. Quality interaction with adults at this age is important in order for the child to develop cognitively.

Attachment is seen as one of the features of the key principles. It is the process through which young children form close relationships with a few well known people ie parents or grandparents. Bowlby the theorist at the forefront of this theory maintained these relationships act as a lasting template for shaping the child’s ability to make and keep successful relationships with family and friends. It is thought these early experiences with the first people who looked after us may shape our long term emotional wellbeing (Birch 2007). Mary Ainsworth (1969) built on Bowlby’s work. She maintained that caregivers should be sensitively responsive, be aware of the young baby or child’s signals and be able to interpret them accurately and respond appropriately and promptly. Through my observations it was apparent that the child had a strong attachment to both his parents, see appendix 1, observation 1. During my project I was open and approachable with both parents, finding out about the child’s temperament, routines, likes and dislikes, making both parents and child feel comfortable in my company. According to Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010 pg 24) “one of the most effective ways of demonstrating respect for children and families is where staff express a genuine interest in them”. I have been able to witness the benefits of working with a family in a home environment and feel that home visits should be arranged in order that a relationship can be built up with parents, children and practitioners before younger children attend an early years setting. This should make the transition from home to the setting run smoothly, enabling the child to feel safe and secure in a new environment. According to Dryden et al (pg 81) “Having a secure attachment to their primary carers and to a key worker in a nursery setting appears to impact on a child’s ability to cope with major life changes. This emphasises the importance of stable and sensitive care for very young children in an early years setting”. Goldschmeid was influenced by Bowlby’s work and introduced the keyworker concept (The Early Years Foundation Stage 2007). This approach sees an adult being responsible for the care of a small group of children, getting to know their routines well and tuning into their needs. Ratios of staff to children could be a challenge of the system. It is not always possible for the same person to attend to the needs of younger children. Also rotas and turnover of staff may mean that other colleagues in addition to a child’s keyworker will be required to know children’s routines and preferences.

There are various models that can be used to track the growth and development of children in the early years. The medical and checklist models can result in a deficit view of the child, focusing on what the child cannot do. Learning should always start with what the child can do. The conventional method of studying child development has been to use the Normative Development model. Mary Sheridan carried out research in the 1950’s. This work was used to develop a framework for child development. This uses the milestones approach and suggests that children should be able to achieve certain things at a certain age. Although there are recognized sequences of child development it is thought that as children develop at different rates it is more appropriate to look at a child’s development holistically (Dryden et al 2007). The EYFS (2007) has divided learning and development into the following six areas: Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication, Language and Literacy, Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy, Knowledge and understanding of the World, Physical Development and Creative Development (Department for Children, Schools and Families 2008)

Observations and assessments should be completed in order that children’s development can be tracked and progression can be seen. It is important that there is a good record keeping system in place. Experiences offered during this project were not based on learning outcomes as this type of curriculum is not suitable for a child of this age. It is not appropriate to plan weeks in advance. By observing the child, together with information gained from parents I was able to go on to plan experiences based on his individual needs, see appendix 1, observation 3, I promoted play and supported and extended the child’s learning where appropriate. I will take this into account when working in an early years setting, building children’s learning around their daily experiences and encouraging them to interact with others in the setting. Lev Vygotsky was a leading theorist of cognitive development whose thoughts are very current. He is seen as the founder of the social constructivist approach who believed that through social interactions with adults, children learn cultural tools and social skills. He felt that culture and community were essential elements of children’s cognitive development (Linden 2005). Children learn to think and put into practice their thoughts as a result of social interaction. Dryden et al (2005 pg82) notes “the most important element of a high quality play and learning environment for babies and children up to three is the adult”. I realize that I must provide an environment rich with child initiated learning to enable children to develop their language and cognitive skills and recognize that I will have to make reflection a part of my work routine. This will allow me to look at the opportunities of play that are provided and ensure children are being given the tools to make choices and decisions regarding their play and learning.

Throughout my project I demonstrated to the child that I was interested in his learning by interacting with him and responding flexibly, tuning into his interests, enabling me to plan responsively for his learning. During observation 3, see appendix 1, the child was wrapping himself in curtains and on further discussions with his mother I learned that he liked to hide in the understairs cupboard and under tables and chairs. On reflection I thought this could be an envelopment/containment schema. Chris Athey (2003) identified schemas as a pattern of repeated actions. Children exhibit schemas when they are playing and trying to find out more about the world. Practitioners can use schema theory to interpret children’s actions and go on to support and extend children’s learning by providing appropriate resources. It may be difficult to explain schema theory to parents and I believe it may be helpful to use a video camera as a means of observation which may help the parents better understand their children’s learning. Observation of children’s learning from both the home and setting can be shared and their learning taken forward from there. Working in partnership with parents is one of the features of the key principles in practice (Scottish Government 2010)

Language acquisition is one of the key milestones in early childhood development. BF Skinner the theorist associated with Behaviourist Theory thought that children imitate the language of their parent or carers. The behaviourists believe that children learn through positive and negative reinforcement, using praise when a child’s spoken word is recognized and ignoring unsuccessful attempts at speaking. This line of thought was challenged by Jerome Bruner a Social Interactional Theorist who believed that language development is both biological and social and that language is influenced by the desire of children to communicate with others. Bruner believed that through using a Language Acquisition Support System, various approaches can be used such as pointing out and naming objects and responding to children’s utterances all help children to acquire the language skills required for cognitive and social development. Bruner called this scaffolding the child’s language acquisition (Birch 1997). I put this into practice during observation 2, appendix 1, talking to the child throughout, naming objects and responding to his gestures. The child seems to have good understanding of words but has a fairly limited vocabulary but this should increase rapidly around this age.

After taking into consideration government initiatives and guidance, various theories of child development and my observations of a young child it has become apparent to me the importance of establishing a relationship between keyworkers, children and parents which is both respectful, responsive and nurturing. Research regarding the rapid development of babies brain development means practitioners must be aware of the impact of their practice on very young children’s social and cognitive developments. I realise the importance of continuing professional development in order to keep up to date with government legislation and any advances in child development which will help me make informed decisions regarding my practice. I believe it is important to put in place policies and procedures in early years settings that will facilitate the reflection on practice with practitioners, colleagues and parents.

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