Growth, development and maturity
In order for children to learn, they need to develop a foundation of skills that not only obtains information, but helps them understand what to do with the information.
There are three important aspects when a child grows into an adult which is growth, development and maturity. Whatever aspect of growing up you consider, whether it be learning to talk, learning to move, learning to get on with others, they’ll always be these three aspects interlinked with one another.
Growth is about the body getting bigger over time, which not only includes size (eg, getting taller), but body composition (eg, teeth coming through) and proportions (eg, muscles developing). Have you ever noticed a baby’s legs are small in proportion to the rest of their body? This is because a baby has no use for their legs when they are first born. For children, growth can be confusing and difficult and you need to take the following things into account:
- Growth can be painful and can carry on right into adulthood, think of a wisdom tooth growing through
- Children can have growth spurts and can suddenly become clumsy and awkward
- Children’s muscles have a higher water content than adults’ muscles, which means they can tire more easily but also accounts for them fidgeting 
Development is about the body changing and adapting over time, so all the parts work more effectively and efficiently together. The pathways of communication which carry information from the brain to muscles, skin and other structures in the body, are constantly formed as the child has new experiences. This means that skills become embedded and more automatic.
For example, when a child starts learning to walk, that is all they can think about. The brain is completely occupied with helping the body move and nothing else can be considered. Eventually, with time and practice the child will be able to walk unassisted and run without the mind consciously thinking about it. Another example is the ability to pronounce certain sounds which are dependent on the language a child speaks.
Here are some things to consider what it’s like for a child developing:
- Children can get frustrated at any age with what they think they can do and what they can actually do
- Being able to move automatically without thinking is crucial, so if a child can’t perform a task that calls on this action, such as handwriting, you have to look at the motor skill and coordination to try and work out why they’re having difficulties
- Children need an incredible amount of practice to enable the brain to make the body and mind work more efficiently
Maturity is about the body getting closer to adulthood. William Shakespeare (in The Winter’s Tale ) and Sarah Jayne Blakemore (Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London) both consider childhood, or at least adolescence, not finishing until around the age of 23 years. Although the sequence of change is the same for most people, the rate of development will vary. For example, teething occurs before puberty but exactly which month these happen can be different. Another example would be that some girls start their periods in primary school, and others in secondary school.
Maturity also implies an adult like quality in thought and behaviour. For instance, sometimes adults will comment that a child is very tall for their age, or very mature in attitude. However, these thoughts can hold unreasonable expectations, for example, if a child is tall they’re seen as stronger, or if a child is mature in attitude they’re expected to behave in a certain way. Consider these points when it comes to children maturing:
- Just because the child is tall for their age, or seems more mature doesn’t mean they don’t still have childlike needs and thoughts – always be acutely aware of their age
- Be patient, maturing takes a long time
- If expectations of adult behaviour and attitudes are not being met, consider why you would apply the same principles to children
- Allow children to make mistakes, they’re just children who are trying to make sense of everything in a short space of time
- Bee, H. & Boyd, D. The Developing Child. 11th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon; 2007.
UPDATE MONDAY 29 APRIL AT 10:15: Further reading has been added.
Berk, L.E. Child Development . 8th ed. London: Allyn & Bacon; 2008. Relevant sections from Chapters 3 and 5 for reference 
Smith, P.K., Cowie, H., & Blades, M. Understanding children’s development. 4th ed. London: Blackwell Publishers; 2003. Relevant section from Chapter 3 for reference 
© University of Reading