How Environment Impacts Early Childhood Development

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: How Language Impacts Early Childhood Development

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Nature vs. Nurture
  • 0:37 Meaning of Environment
  • 1:20 Developmental Domains
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

This lesson explores how environment impacts cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and language development in children ages two to five and provides examples of some of the possible environmental factors.

Nature vs. Nurture

You've probably heard the old argument over nature versus nurture. It centers on whether nature (heredity and the genetic predisposition to specific traits) or nurture (the environmental surroundings and upbringing) is primarily responsible for the development of children. To understand individuals who seem to have a predisposition toward mental illness or socially aberrant behavior, it is commonly said that 'nature loads the gun and nurture pulls the trigger.'

Let's take a look at what kinds of environmental factors (or nurture) can impact early childhood development and in what ways.

Meaning of Environment

Environmental factors that impact child development usually fit into categories like:

  • Social environment, which is the child's relationship with others at school and in the community
  • Emotional environment, which is how well families meet the child's relational needs at home
  • Economic environment, which is the family's ability to provide financially for the child

The physical environment may also impact development through exposure to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or environmental toxins like lead. The child's home, neighborhood, state, and even land may be part of the physical environment. Children may have been exposed in utero to some of these environmental factors, but the symptoms may manifest as difficulties in preschool age development.

Developmental Domains

Let's focus on some specific examples of which environmental factors have different kinds of impacts on the five developmental domains, including: cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and language development.

1. Cognitive Development

Daniel lives in poverty and has never had many stimulating toys. He often goes to bed hungry and can't think clearly sometimes. He's preoccupied mentally with surviving and hasn't had the chance to do many fun learning activities or much of anything besides exist.

The cognitive development of preschool children from age two to five is affected by their social, emotional, economic, and physical environment. If children don't have adequate social interactions at school and in the community, they don't have the opportunity for practical applications of their learning to promote healthy cognitive development. Without loving support from family in schooling efforts, children are less likely to succeed. Preschool children whose families have economic hardship may struggle with adequate nutrition that would promote brain development. If children are being exposed to a dangerous physical environment, this exposure may have consequences on brain growth during the critical preschool years.

2. Emotional Development

Josh is the youngest in a foster home with five other kids. His foster brothers and sisters tend to bully him and his foster parents don't seem to notice or care because all they do is argue. He never knew his real parents and worries he will never know what a loving family is like.

From age two to five, children are affected by the different environmental factors that impact healthy emotional development. Without a healthy social and emotional environment, children will not feel safe about taking risks and exploring the world, and this kind of emotional security is critical for those developmental skills. Children who struggle with an unstable situation at home can develop attachment issues that can impede their emotional development and lead to mental health issues later on. This is made worse if the economic environment is also unstable because those children will not have access to the level of care they may need.

3. Social Development

Laura is an only child whose parents did not have the means to send her to preschool. When she gets to kindergarten, she lacks the social skills to take turns or speak up in class. Laura's environment, like other preschool age children, affects social development.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account