Major Milestones in Cognitive Development in Early Childhood

By Stacy Zogheib
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Watching your baby and young child develop is an amazing process because they progress from being tiny and helpless to capable in just a few short years. Developmental milestones are the large skills that children acquire along the way. Cognitive milestones are those that relate to thinking, problem-solving and self-awareness.

Birth to 1 Year

In the first year of life most cognitive milestones are related to self- awareness. Babies learn that they are separate from their parents and begin to show fear around strangers at around 6 months. They begin to imitate simple actions like clapping, and realize that objects that are out of sight still exist. At around 12 months most babies will babble or look when you say their names, point to objects that interest them, and roll a ball back and forth in play. You can help promote cognitive development at this age by playing with your baby and giving her safe areas to explore.

1 to 2 Years

Between the ages of 1 and 2 years, children’s cognitive development becomes more concrete. Children begin to experiment with simple pretend play around this time. They may pretend to drink from a toy cup, or cook fake food for you to eat. They begin to notice similarities and differences between objects and may be able to sort objects by shape and color at around 2 years old. At this age, point out similarities and differences between objects that your child sees every day. Talk about his green cup, blue plate or red shirt.

2 to 3 Years

This age is one of exploration. Your child will continue to develop by exploring and being into everything. Between 2 and 3 years children learn to point to and identify familiar pictures in books. They are typically able to follow 1 and 2-step directions such as, “bring me your shoes,” or “get the book and put it on the shelf.” Pretend play becomes more complex at this age and your child may enact longer scenarios with cars, dolls or a plate and spoon. Give your child open-ended toys at this age to help promote complex pretend play.

3 and Older

Once they pass age 3, cognitive development becomes more abstract. Children gain more skill in observing situations and objects, and describing what they see. They learn to count aloud, name colors, and recall significant events in a story. They engage in still more complex pretend play and begin to understand the concepts of same and different. This is the age of the “why” question, when children want to know the reasons for everything. Even though it can be exasperating, try to answer your child’s questions at an age-appropriate level.

About the Author

Stacy Zogheib's writing has been published in various online publications. She is a teacher and educator with experience teaching first grade, special education and working with children ages 0 to 3. She has a Bachelor of Arts in elementary and special education from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.