Understanding the primary areas of child development and learning can help you to identify a child’s strengths and areas in which they could further develop skills.

Using Formal Assessments to Explore Developmental Domains

There are a variety of ways to identify areas of strengths and areas of potential growth for children. For instance, a formal assessment might cover a variety of areas although it may not cover some potential areas that could still be helpful to address.

One tool commonly used for young children with autism spectrum disorder is known as the VB-MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program). This assessment addresses the following areas of development and learning:

  • Manding
  • Tacting
  • Listener Responding
  • Visual Perception and Matching to Sample
  • Independent Play
  • Social Behavior and Social Play
  • Motor Imitation
  • Echoics
  • Spontaneous Vocal Behavior
  • Listener Responding by Feature, Function, and Class
  • Intraverbals
  • Classroom Routines and Group Skills
  • Linguistics
  • Reading Skills
  • Writing
  • Math

The VB-MAPP also covers barriers to learning as well as skills helpful for understanding the most beneficial placement and service intensity for a child.

There are more assessments available to evaluate overall functioning of a child, as well, such as the ABLLS-R and the AFLS.

These types of assessments cover many skills that a child could develop to live with more independence and to enhance their skill set in certain areas.

General Developmental Domains

Additionally, there are other areas of development and learning that can be looked at through the context of a more general lens.

According to the Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8, development and learning can be viewed by exploring the following domains:

  • Physical Development and Health
  • General Learning Competencies
  • Cognitive Development
  • Socioemotional Development

Within each of these domains, there are a variety of skill set areas that can further define specific areas of child development and learning.

In the area of physical development and health, skills that a child should develop fall under the areas of the following:

  • safety
  • nutrition
  • growth
  • sensory and motor development
  • fitness

In the area of general learning competencies, skills that a child should develop fall under the areas of the following:

  • General cognitive skills which include
    • attention
    • memory
    • cognitive self-regulation
    • executive functioning
    • reasoning
    • problem solving
  • Learning skills and dispositions which include
    • initiative
    • curiosity
    • motivation
    • engagement
    • persistence

In the area of cognitive development, skills that a child should develop fall under the areas of the following:

  • cognitive skills and knowledge shared across subjects
  • cognitive skills and knowledge distinct to specific subjects

In the area of socioemotional development, skills that a child should develop fall under the areas of the following:

  • emotional regulation
  • relational security
  • capacities for empathy and relatedness
  • socioemotional well-being
  • mental health

Main Areas of Child Development and Learning

When observing and assessing a child’s functioning and what they might learn next, it can be helpful to look at their skills from a broad perspective, such as by making note of any strengths and any areas of potential growth in the categories identified above.

Additionally, as you work on creating more specific recommendations or developing ideas about what a child could learn next, you can evaluate each domain with more details. This can then help you to pinpoint objective skills that a child may learn next to ultimately help them develop to their optimal abilities.


Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Allen LR, Kelly BB, editors. Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jul 23. 4, Child Development and Early Learning. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310550/