The first three years of life are an exciting and magical time. During these short three years, babies who can barely stay awake long enough for a single feeding become people who are well on their way to developing the concept of their own individuality.
There are many processes in the works to get children from point A to point B during this time; small achievements become critical stepping stones and having the right tools in your toolkit from the beginning offers an advantage that's difficult to replicate later in life.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills are skills that require children to utilize their large muscle groups to move and balance. Gross motor skills are involved in sitting upright, standing, walking, running, jumping etc. Gross motor skills are the building blocks for various other skills including refined hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Many children naturally develop gross motor skills during everyday activities in which they have a chance to explore their surroundings. However, like any other skill, gross motoring can be refined and more accurately developed. Encouraging children to practice their gross motor skills will help improve proprioception, balance, muscle development and bodily control. Children with improved motor skills are more independent, have increased opportunities for social interaction and have an improved sense of self.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills begin at birth, although they're hardly refined at this stage. That doesn't mean that practicing activities such as grasping and holding onto objects should be overlooked. Even at a very young age, babies begin to develop the skills they'll need to eventually feed themselves, tie their shoes, button a shirt and thread a needle. As fine motor skills improve, quality of life improves as well; fine motor skills set the stage for an independent life in which your child can prepare his own food, practice proper hygiene and keep up in school.
Color & Shape Recognition and Comparisons
Most young children are drawn to colors and many will be able to name them within the first few years of life. Colors and shapes are fun to play with and explore, but being able to give a name to the "red triangle" is more than just a fun activity.
Color and shape recognition, matching and sorting all fall into the category of skills known as cognitive proficiency, and these types of skills are critical to several other abilities including fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, language and more.
Pretending is fun, but did you know it's actually a major milestone for development? There are many different types of ways to pretend; some kids love action-packed play, others are homebodies. But the thing all pretend play has in common is the intrinsic role it plays in early childhood development. Pretend play builds thinking skills, helps to grow social and emotional skills kids need to succeed later in life, and further develops language and communication.
Understanding of Time
Time management is an all-around important skill, and although children don't develop it until much later, having a basic understanding of how time works is highly valuable even for kids as young as two and three. Understanding before and after, being familiar with the passage of time and learning to cope with transitions are important life skills that should be introduced early. Be consistent and keep schedules, talk about yesterday, today and tomorrow, and make sure children can visualize the passage of time with visual timers.
Perhaps one of the most critical life skills, and one that can best be taught and reinforced by the success in learning, is self-esteem. Self-esteem is something that can either develop or be stunted over time, and begins with positive attention, reinforcement and feedback.
When babies feel good about themselves because they are rewarded and accepted regardless of how big or small their accomplishments are, self-esteem grows. Over the course of those first few years, a healthy self-esteem will make kids more accepting of themselves and others, more eager to learn, more likely to take healthy risks and more likely to fit in.