Skip to main content

Fundamentals of Child Development for Elementary Educators

Elementary school is a critical time for any young person’s overall development. Educators who work in elementary schools provide a vital layer of support for children who are making some of their first real connections with society and learning, not to mention all of the expectations that accompany such a setting.

Having a working knowledge of the different ways and rates children develop allows teachers to make appropriate assessments of children’s growth and support them correspondingly. Graduates of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) online Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.) with a Specialization in Elementary Education program equips education professionals with these competencies.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) outlines nine guiding principles for creating “developmentally appropriate practice” for elementary school children. The principles help create a learning environment that can account for the complex development of young children and how these different areas are interrelated and inseparable.

One of these principles highlights the interplay among the various developmental facets: “All domains of child development — physical development, cognitive development, social and emotional development, and linguistic development…are important; each domain both supports and is supported by the others.”

The Important Elements

The NAEYC argues that addressing multiple areas improves elementary school students’ development overall. Proper nutrition and sleep, for instance, directly affect a student’s ability to constructively engage in social interactions. Students who receive regular conversations and interpersonal socialization typically have an easier time getting the most out of their learning environments.

The heavy overlap among these different areas of development — and the necessity of addressing them all together — lies at the heart of most of the NAEYC’s guiding principles. For instance, the organization touts the multifaceted benefits of playtime for children. “Play helps children develop large-motor and fine-motor physical competence, explore and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control their emotions, develop symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills,” according to NAEYC. As this list shows, the ability of children to cultivate physical, intellectual and social-emotional development makes play an important practice.

Creating Impactful Lessons

Understanding children’s cognitive and emotional development processes allows teachers to create mutually reinforcing lessons across these domains. When teachers can tap into more areas of development, they create a deeper learning experience for children and better prepare them for more fulfilling learning and social experiences. The NAEYC suggests utilizing more “intentional teaching strategies, including, and particularly, play (both self-directed and guided).”

Extraneous stress factors also impact young children’s development. New America describes several stress factors common to children, such as “poverty, family conflict, parental depression, abuse, and neglect.” These chronic stressors can have a hugely detrimental effect on children’s development, from their cognitive skills to their physical health. Sometimes, to meaningfully address these issues, “two-generation interventions” can be useful. This means “providing resources, such as job placement services, to parents while also caring for children in the family.”

In cases where these measures aren’t possible, New America emphasizes that elementary educators must be trained to recognize the signs of stress and help instill coping skills like “persistence and emotional awareness.” Child development is endlessly complicated, but trying to account for all variables helps improve support across domains.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

Graduates of the online M.A.Ed. – Elementary Education program from UNCP will gain the requisite skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of early childhood education. The program teaches students about foundational theories and principles for elementary students, as well as how to apply those in real-world situations.

Courses like Development, Diversity, and Differentiated Instruction show candidates how to gain a deeper understanding of assessing students’ development while accounting for their differences and creating inclusive and engaging instruction for all.

Learn more about UNCP’s online M.A.Ed. with a Specialization in Elementary Education program.

Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.

Request Information

Submit this form, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 844-302-7886

Take the next step

Start your application today!

Or call 844-302-7886 844-302-7886

for help with any questions you may have.