During their first three years, children’s physical and sensory skills develop rapidly.
They learn, move, and explore the world through their senses, using their gross- and
fine-motor skills. As a responsive caregiver, you’re attuned to their physical needs—
everything from feeding babies to providing plenty of open space in which two-year-
olds can run and climb. You take into account the changes in children’s physical
abilities, and you applaud them when they become more mobile, first sitting up, then
crawling, then walking, eating, and dressing all by themselves.
But of course this isn’t all there is to their early development: while they’re mas-
tering new physical skills, they’re also increasing their ability to perceive and con-
ceptualize. Perceptual development is what we call the ability to organize our senses
and our sensory experiences. As children’s perception grows, they understand the
world better. Interestingly, there’s a link between perceptual and motor skills that’s
unique among the ways the domains are connected to each other. Gross-motor skills,
which involve the large muscles of the body, develop through big movements like
jumping, dancing, and marching. Fine-motor skills are honed by learning to control
the muscles and movements of hands and fingers. As children develop these skills,
their ability to perceive the world increases; their competencies become more refined
We call the thinking and learning that begins at birth and continues throughout
life cognitive development. As children’s ability to think, reason, and problem solve
increases, they better understand how the world works. They broaden their thinking
and test out new ideas. You can see this in the way they make use of their growing
cognitive skills: they can soon wield cause and effect, memory, spatial awareness,
connecting experiences, awareness of numbers, imitating others, progression of play,
and following simple directions.
Integrating sounds and language is termed language development. Learning language is
the universal task of children from birth to age three. From earliest infancy, children
play with sounds and language. As a responsive caregiver, you look for chances to
encourage language development by listening, speaking, and reading to children.
You know that acquiring language is significantly linked to literacy, and you help
children build this skill by learning sounds, symbols, and patterns of speech.
You can help infants, toddlers, and twos build vocabulary by asking open-ended
questions and modeling appropriate use of language. Children develop expressive
and receptive language skills by hearing their caregivers talk, read, and sing to them
throughout the day. Encourage language development by playing with rhythm,
rhyme, and music; with chants and fingerplays; and with printed materials. Immers-
ing young children in these language-rich activities helps them learn how to com-
municate their needs, connect language with real-world knowledge, and understand
8 Activities for Responsive Caregiving