Why is the first year of life so important for childhood learning and development? What's going on in a baby's brain and body during those pivotal 12 months?
If you're planning to work in early childhood education, know that you'll be caring for humans at a key stage in their physical, emotional, and intellectual development.
You'll have a front-row seat to the incredible changes that take place as newborns become toddlers. And you'll see how much your teaching impacts their development as they tackle the challenges of growing up.
Just how important is baby's first year? Take a look at some of the amazing things children can do by age one.
Smiling, laughing, and first words
Nothing is more exciting than a baby's first attempts at communication and connection with other people. It's incredible how quickly this skill develops during the first year of life.
In fact, some infants start reacting to words as young as three months. And during that same period, they often start smiling at others and trying to get people to smile back at them.
From four to six months, many children start laughing and babbling sounds that closely resemble real language. And in many cases, by nine months, babies will respond to familiar words (like their name) and may even say "mama" or "dada."
Of course, it varies significantly by child, but by one year old, babies can speak an average of three words. Just 12 short months after birth, they are communicating with parents and teachers, ready to take those skills to the next level.
Understanding Cause & Effect
"If I do this, it makes something happen. And if I keep doing this, I'll get the same result, over and over." You wouldn't expect such an advanced piece of logical reasoning from a four-month-old baby, right?
And yet, researchers have found that even very young babies understand the basics of cause and effect. For instance, a four-month-old may splash their hands in the water, notice that their face gets wet, and repeat the motion.
So as an early childhood educator, it makes sense to develop this skill further by giving babies toys they can "work"—toys that react to touch and demonstrate the law of cause and effect.
It also makes sense to engage with even very young babies, communicating through smiles and other non-verbal cues. Infants are capable of understanding how their behaviors drive reactions from other humans—and can develop their interpersonal skills based on those observations.
Pointing, gripping, and self-feeding
In the blink of an eye, babies go from completely helpless to active, capable, and determined. From the tender age of one month, infants can open and shut their hands and bring objects to their mouths.
They start lifting their heads and chests while lying on their tummies. And they'll begin swiping or reaching for objects around them.
By about six months, most babies can sit up and successfully grab and manipulate those objects. And by 10 to 12 months, many can feed themselves.
It's barely been one year, but they've already grown vastly more independent. From this point onward, the physical and cognitive development really takes off.
Reading non-verbal cues, and understanding "intentions"
A study at York University in Toronto proved that six-month-olds can tell the difference between an adult who is unable to do something—and an adult who is unwilling to do something. In other words, they can interpret your intentions by reading non-verbal cues.
For example, when researchers tried but couldn't pass baby a toy, the infant seemed to "understand" and didn't get agitated.
On the other hand, when the researchers teased baby by holding out a toy, and then taking it away, baby seemed unhappy. The child understood she was being tricked, and seemed displeased.
The takeaway? At just six months old, babies can decode your body language and, in a very basic way, judge your intentions. They can also interpret the intentions of other children in your daycare or preschool.
Early childhood educators can build on this ability by fostering respectful, compassionate communication between even the youngest students—and remembering that their own actions are being very carefully watched.
Babies are much more aware of their surroundings than many people realize. They can tell how attentive your are through subtle non-verbal cues. Think a little one won't notice that you're sending a text or taking a call during one-to-one playtime? Think again! They'll know you're distracted and not fully present.
Scooting, Standing, and Cruising
By seven to nine months on average, babies are able to pull themselves up into a standing position. Many are busy scooting around the floor, either on their bottoms, or crawling on their tummies. Others are already "cruising" the room, holding onto furniture to get their balance.
At this stage, baby-proofing is definitely a top priority. Your daycare or preschool must be set up to keep these roving little explorers safe, as they'll want to grab and touch everything within arm's reach.
Now that they're upright and mobile, these babies are finally able to get to the objects and people that interest them. This is a really exciting period of development where language skills progress and babies start to make sense of the world around them. This is when they take that final leap from infant to toddler.
So much is happening within that first year of life. Babies are learning how to control their bodies, communicating both verbally and through body language, and grasping some of the finer nuances of human interaction.
Before their first birthday, many infants are already on the go, engaging directly with people and things in their environment and learning new skills at an incredibly rapid rate.
In fact, a baby's brain grows most rapidly during the first year. In just 12 months, the brain produces billions of new cells and hundreds of trillions of connections between those cells.
By three months, a baby's brain has already reached half its adult size! This is why young children are often called sponges for new information. They're soaking it all in, every single moment.
It's no wonder early childhood education is such a crucial part of human development. Well-trained teachers encourage children at each milestone, building on strengths and helping to overcome challenges. This is where confidence and a love of learning is born.
Learn more About Early Childhood Education Training
Do you love interacting with young children, and feel inspired to pursue a career in early childhood education? You don't need a university degree to open your own daycare or preschool or find employment in this field.
If you meet admission requirements, you can earn an early childhood education certificate from a public or private college. Many programs can be completed in less than two years.
We recommend talking with an academic advisor, who can walk you through the coursework, explain the application process, and answer any questions you may have.
We welcome you to get in touch with a Herzing advisor and learn more about our early childhood education program, delivered online. Click below to get started. We're here to help!