Within the Early Childhood Education and Care profession, developmental milestones have long been regarded as a vital tool for assessing a child’s progress and growth. Early assessment and support for children who need additional help is no doubt the foundation of effective early intervention. However, one director we spoke to believes that developmental milestones are being overused by some educators. She says, “Maybe it’s the added workload or maybe it’s a lack of understanding, but more and more educators are using developmental milestones as mere checkboxes rather than taking the time to thoroughly observe and analyse the children in their care, we need to reevaluate how we use them in the sector”
The Misconception of Linear Progression:
A common misconception is that developmental milestones represent a linear path to a child’s growth and success. In reality, child development is a highly individualised process influenced by various factors. Expecting all children to meet specific milestones at the same time is unrealistic and can create undue pressure on children, caregivers and parents. Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) wisely reminds us that “learning is not always predictable and linear.” It’s crucial to recognise that children progress at their own pace.
The Pitfall of “Ticking a Box”:
Do some educators overuse checklists? Inexperienced or time-pressed educators may use these milestones as a way to document a child’s learning without truly understanding the child’s unique developmental journey. Furthermore, developmental milestones are not universally applicable; they can carry cultural and socioeconomic biases. What may be considered a milestone in one culture may not hold the same importance in another.
This practice of ticking a box can be counterproductive. Instead of fostering genuine understanding and support for each child’s development, it reduces the rich tapestry of growth to mere checkmarks.
The Need for a Sociocultural Perspective:
To address these issues, it’s crucial to adopt a sociocultural perspective when evaluating children’s development. This perspective acknowledges that child development is shaped by the interplay of cultural, social, and environmental factors.
With this perspective, we can:
- Celebrate Diversity: Embrace and value the unique backgrounds and experiences of each child.
- Tailor Support: Provide individualised support that meets the specific needs and interests of each child.
- Holistic Development: Recognise that child development encompasses emotional, social, and cognitive growth.
While developmental milestones can be a valuable tool for early intervention, we should view them as general guidelines rather than rigid rules. Embracing a sociocultural perspective allows us to respect and support each child’s unique journey of growth and development while moving away from the counterproductive practice of “ticking a box.” This approach ensures that we don’t miss the vibrant colours of each child’s development while documenting their progress.
How do you use developmental milestones?