Before learning activities can be planned for preschool children their pattern of growth and development must be examined and this will be our primary focus in this article.
Definition of Growth and Development
The terms ‘growth’ and ‘development’ are usually used interchangeably. This is large because both terms refer to changes.
However, there are still some slight differences between the two terms. It is correct to say that development involves growth.
However, it is more than growth. So, how does one distinguish between the two related terms? Growth implies an increase in size, height, and weight f the child. Growth is usually along one dimension and is quantitative, visible, and always measurable.
Development, on the other hand, refers to the holistic changes, which occur in the individual child over time such that he moves from immaturity and helplessness to a more mature and competent level of functioning.
These changes may be quantitative or qualitative, and may or may not be visible while the developmental process is going on.
Three processes are involved in development. They are growth, maturation, and learning (Soken & Akinade, 1995).
Generally, when we talk about the development of the child, it is possible to consider several areas of development according to age levels, physical growth, moral development, cognitive development, emotional development, social development, and development of personality.
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Maturation and Learning
There are two basic concepts underlying human growth and development. They are (1) Maturation and (2) Learning.
They are necessary for the growth and development of any child. We have already noted that growth and development are related to each other.
The body must develop to make possible the changes in behavior that are characteristic of different ages; physical disturbances may also cause disturbances in the development of behavior.
Some degree of development emanates from within an individual regardless of his environment or experiences. The development of those innate potentialities of a child in a sequential order is referred to as maturation.
For example, some activities of the child such as crawling, walking-even talking depend largely on maturation and not training.
No amount of prodding or encouragement from parents or adults around will make a child sit, crawl or walk if he has not developed the muscular control needed to accomplish such a task.
Maturation is, therefore, the attainment of a particular level of functional ability, which makes possible the achievement of a certain pattern of behavior. It is not induced by learning or experience. It comes about as a result of the mere passage of time (Sokan & Akinade, 1995)
Learning, on the other hand, has been defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior arising from experience. Therefore, despite the internal maturational process that has to take place before a certain behavior or experience is exhibited some degree of learning has to take place.
For example, when a child has developed the capacity for walking, his parents and other siblings around him may need to encourage him to take the steps.
At the beginning of walking, there is bound to be some element of fear and uncertainty in the mind of the child but the outstretched hands and smiles from adults around him may be encouraging and reassuring. But the child needs to be encouraged only through practice and not by insistence.
Development, therefore, is a positive interaction between maturation and learning.
The child must have developed the capacity to perform a certain task before he will learn, through practice, how to carry out the task.
The implication is that the abilities and habits of a child are not just a result of maturation alone; they are the end-product of interaction between maturation and what he learns from his observations of parents, teachers, and other important individuals in his life and the events he experiences.
Teachers must become very aware of the relationship between maturation and learning capacity. It is generally recognized that it may be fruitless to force a child to acquire a skill before the child has reached the appropriate stage of development. Teachers must consider READINESS.
The preschool teacher may, through observations and guided activities, recognize “reading readiness” and ‘writing readiness” in the individual child.
Often, parents and teachers who do not appreciate the importance of readiness on the part of the child usually get frustrated and give up trying to encourage the child.
A child diagnosed to be a slow developer may be encouraged to increase his skills in school readiness.