‘Ages and Stages’ Evaluates Youth Development

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This month several 4-H volunteers have been in the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center talking about sending their children off to college. Most said something to the effect of, “He’s always going to be my baby,” or “Boone isn’t that far, but we won’t see her as often.” This development of new-found independence in a young person’s life is pivotal, but there have also been many pivotal moments and experiences leading up to the point of moving in for college. Used to watching them grow and change, parents, grandparents, and guardians are only saying goodbye to the front row seat they have had during their child’s maturation.

Taking a walk down memory lane on behalf of these 4-H volunteers, we can reflect on a child’s development through “ages and stages.” Formally, ages and stages is a framework to assess how youth develop physically, mentally and socially over time. Outside of 4-H, educators are well-versed in these sets of benchmarks.

Parents, grandparents and even babysitters can better engage in a young person’s life by applying what age and stages says. The patterns and tendencies it describes can help them foster learning and be mindful of a child’s current developmental needs.

“He’s always going to be my baby,” said a mother. My baby niece, Anna, is four and a half months old. Even though I favor her, it is generally impressive to me when a baby can go so quickly from a wobbly neck to holding his or her head up strongly, looking around a room while the room looks back. Anna falls into what is commonly the first stage. According to North Carolina Cooperative Extension, “Many models of development identify the infancy (0-2 years), early childhood (2-6 years), middle childhood (7-11 years), early adolescence (12-14 years), and later adolescence (15-18 years),” as traditional groupings for ages and stages.

Youth can join 4-H from ages 5-18, so other 4-H agents and myself often think about our members in slightly different categories. But, the objective is the same: to spot gaps in development and to make the most of a child’s interests and patterns for learning, gaining new skills and having fun.

As an example from ages 5-7, youth usually want to play, play, play. They often enjoy mobile activities because they are working on hand-eye coordination and controlling their bodies. As an example of their mental development, their senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell are helpful learning tools.

Another common development characteristic is their tendency to want individual attention. Youth ages 5-7 think literally most of the time, and they make many “best friends” as they socialize. Do parents of new college students remember their child at this age telling big stories about all the new best friends they were making? I think probably so.

Again, ages and stages information is well-known by educators and professionals who develop curriculum, but even people who interact with kids regularly may not stop and think about how to utilize it for everyday life.

Parents and other community members can learn more about youth development by visiting youthdevelopment.ces.ncsu.edu and clicking on the “Publications and Factsheets” tab. Caldwell County 4-H wishes new college students the best in their next stage of development.

Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships.

From left to right, Sierra Wood, Summer Chester and Zoe Woods sit together under their tarp shelter at a Caldwell County 4-H 2019 Summer Exploring class, where youth learned outdoor survival skills from the County Emergency Response Team. Youth their age enjoy belonging and working in groups.

From left to right, Sierra Wood, Summer Chester and Zoe Woods sit together under their tarp shelter at a Caldwell County 4-H 2019 Summer Exploring class, where youth learned outdoor survival skills from the County Emergency Response Team. Youth their age enjoy belonging and working in groups.