Early Childhood Milestones

Facts About Human Growth & Development in Early Childhood

Birth to 6 months

Milestones a child will attain during the first six months of life include copying sounds, sitting without propping; recognizing their own name, enthusiasm and enjoyment shown when playing with others and babbling. Babbling is the process of stringing together sounds such as ma, da, goo-goo and so on.

6 to 12 months

Between the ages of 6 and 12 months, a small child will begin to make simple gestures such as shaking her head back and forth to mean no, waving bye-bye, playing patty cake and showing with her arms "how big" she is by placing their arms straight above herhead. These simple gestures mimic what she sees during this time period. Other milestones include saying mama and dada, pulling herself up to stand and responding to simple requests.

12 to 18 months

It is between the ages of 12 and 18 months that a child begins to say single words, walk without help and recognize common objects when the word is spoken such as a spoon, blanket, cup, bottle and so on. Playing pretend like feeding a doll or wrapping a doll in a blank is a second milestone this age child will attain. The third milestone is pointing to show someone what he sees that is interesting.

18 to 24 months

Two to three word sentences begin to form between 18 and 24 months. Excitement is evident within the child when they are with other children. Coordination is beginning to develop, which allows the child to do such things as kick or roll a ball. Simple instructions are easy to follow and will point to common objects when prompted.

2 to 3 years

Development continues to advance rapidly during the 2 to 3-year time period. Milestones include copying the actions of others; the ability to carry on a two to three sentence conversation; make-believe play with others or with objects; affection is shown without prompting; and coordination is developed to the point of making climbing easy.

3 to 4 years

Throughout the third and fourth year of life, a child learns to hop and stand on one foot for two seconds. Playing with others is highly enjoyable and they would rather play with someone than play by themselves. Cooperative play has been learned and is handled with ease. Story telling and drawing a person with two to four body parts is mastered.

Red Flags in a Toddler's Behavior

Language

A 2-year-old who doesn't speak at least 15 words or use two-word sentences might be experiencing language delays. Pay careful attention to your toddler's speech. If it is extremely loud, soft, nasal, high-pitched or monotone, you might want to set up an evaluation with a speech therapist. By age 3, a child should have an extensive vocabulary and be speaking in sentences. She should understand and be able to follow simple commands such as "Get your shoes and coat." If your child has any of those signs, contact your pediatrician for a referral to evaluate further.

Motor Skills

Toddlers are naturally active and on the go. If you child struggles to walk, run or jump by age 3, she is in need of further evaluation. A child who frequently falls or struggles to use the stairs should be evaluated. A toddler should be able to manipulate toys such as building a tower of blocks or throwing a ball. A toddler who is unable to perform simple tasks such as zip a zipper or pull off pants might need an referral to an occupational therapist.

Social Skills

Toddlers are social creatures, curious about the world around them. A child who shows little to no interest in other children or toys might be suffering from a developmental delay. If your toddler screams, cries or throws a tantrum when in a social situation, consider contacting her doctor. A toddler who seems particularly bothered by social situations should be evaluated by her pediatrician or referred to a specialist for further evaluation.

Cognitive Skills

A child should, by age 3, engage in different types of pretend play, both on his own and with peers and adults. Your toddler should demonstrate interest in the world around him and "why" questions should be heard often during this developmental period. A child should be able to draw simple shapes such as a circle or square by copying your example. If your child is not engaging in pretend play or attempting to copy simple shapes on a piece of paper, further evaluation might be necessary to rule out any type of developmental problems.

Major Milestones in Cognitive Development in Early Childhood

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.

Delayed Milestones in Babies

More Than Just Height and Weight

Major developmental milestones are reached at approximately two month intervals during the first year of your baby’s life. Some of those milestones include smiling at 2 months, reaching for toys at 4 months, rolling over in both directions at 6 months, sitting without support at 8 to 9 months and following simple directions like “Pick up your toy” at a year. A delay of approximately a month is no cause of concern and is considered to be within the normal range of development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Delayed Due to Special Needs

If your baby is special needs -- born early, exposed to certain substances in-utero or has a congenital cognitive disorder -- milestone delays are to be expected. Speaking with your baby’s health care provider from the beginning will help you to understand what to expect and when to expect it. Milestone goals for special needs babies vary depending on their specific needs, so timelines vary from case to case, per the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Early Reasons to Be Concerned

There are certain warning signs that can indicate a cause for more serious concerns with your baby’s development. Not following objects with his eyes by 6 months, not turning to face the sound of strange or new noises by 6 months, not kicking his legs and grabbing with his hands by 3 months and not responding to his name by 1 year are all serious warning signs that these may be something more than just a growth differential, states the Easter Seals foundation.

What to Do if There Seems to Be a Delay in Milestones

If you feel like your baby has a genuine delay in milestones and meets “concern criteria,” the best thing to do is contact your healthcare provider immediately. The sooner that your baby is screened, the sooner help can be given, say experts at the CDC. There are developmental screening tests you can do at home to take to your child’s healthcare provider to assist in diagnosing a problem if there is one, found on the Easter Seals website.

Baby Milestones in the First Year for Girls vs. Boys

The Short Answer

While the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests assessing preemie milestones differently than full-term baby milestones, it has no such provisions for girls vs. boys. In other words, both your daughter and your son should smile at 8 weeks or stand alone by 12 months. There are no official milestone checklists that separate expectations by gender.

Ability

Studies show that there are no differences in infant boys' and girls' motor and language abilities. While infant boys may tend to be more active, they are not inherently more skilled. The differences in abilities, with girls picking up language faster and boys picking up physical skills faster, do not happen until after children are 12 months old.

Physical Milestones in the First Year

So what milestones should you expect to see from children in the first year? Physically, little ones go from not being able to hold their heads up to standing by themselves. At around 2 months, babies can hold objects in their hands and hold their heads up when they're on their tummies. At 4 months, they can bring their hands together and bring them to their mouths, push themselves up with their arms when they're on their tummies, and reach for objects. Just two months later, they'll be able to sit up by themselves, roll over, and transfer objects from one hand to another. A 9-month-old will pull up to a standing position, crawl, and pick up things with a thumb and forefinger. Around the first birthday, babies will stand on their own, feed themselves and possibly even take a few steps.

Communication Milestones in the First Year

Language is another area in which there are many milestones during the first year. A 2-month-old, for example, should respond to sounds, cry to express wants, and make cooing noises. In the next two months, babies will turn their heads to listen to voices and be able to laugh. When they're 6 months old, they'll babble by putting two sounds together, like "ba" or "da," and respond to their names. Your expectations at 9 months should include imitating sounds and movements, responding to short phrases, and babbling in a way that sounds more like words. By 1 year old, newly minted toddlers should be able to say a few words, hand you an object when you ask for it and combine sounds with movements.

Checklist of Developmental Milestones for 18-24 Months

Social/Emotional

Social and emotional development is associated with how your child interacts with others, solves problems and expresses emotions. Enjoyment is commonly found in handing things to you, pointing out objects and pretend play at 18 months, says the Centers for Disease Control in an article entitled “Important Milestones: Your Child at 18 Months." Once your child reaches the age of 2, interest in playmates will increase and your child should show more independence and self-awareness.

Cognition

Cognitive development affects thinking, concentration and learning patterns. At 18 months, your child should know one or more body parts, show affection, identify objects and feel a sense of ownership, says the National Institutes of Health. Abilities become more pronounced at 24 months and typically include sentence and rhyme completion, shape and color sorting, being able to identify animals and following short instructions. Developmental delays in this area can interfere with later school performance if not identified early.

Language/Speech

Your child should learn between 20 and 50 words by age 2 and will begin to put short sentences together. During this period, you should also notice your child consistently acquiring new words, asking simple questions and using consonant sounds at the beginning of words. You can encourage language development by speaking slowly and clearly, engaging in gesture games such as pat-a-cake and by identifying objects for your child to repeat, according to an article on KidsHealth.com entitled “Communication and your 1 to 2 Year Old."

Physical Movement

At 18 months, your toddler should be able to walk unassisted.
At 18 months, your toddler should be able to walk unassisted.

At 18 months, your toddler should be able to walk alone and up stairs, drink from a cup and eat with a spoon, and assist with putting on clothes. Around the age of 2, other milestones include carrying objects, running, throwing a ball and climbing onto furniture unassisted. Expect your child to fall occasionally as he gets used to this level of movement. It is also important to keep your child on soft carpet and away from sharp corners during this time of exploration.

What Is a Milestones Chart?

Format

Most milestone charts are broken down into age groups, as many areas of development are age-specific. Since infants develop new skills at a fast rate, charts begin by listing milestones for every two to three months of development. After age 2, most charts show a year-by-year list of skills. Age groups are further divided into specific skill areas, most often including physical, cognitive, emotional, language and social skills.

Skill Areas

Physical or movement areas involve fine motor skills (using hands and fingers) and gross motor skills (larger muscle and limb movements). Such milestones include an infant’s ability to sit without support by 6 months or a 4-year-old’s ability to hop on one foot. Cognitive skills involve problem solving, thinking or learning, such as your infant recognizing faces and your 5-year-old counting to 10. Social and emotional skills are typically tied together and involve abilities like a 1-year-old repeating sounds to get attention or a 3-year-old taking turns in a game. Language skills involve both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as constructing full sentences or pointing to objects.

Developmental Delays

Doctors and parents pay attention to milestone charts because they help you recognize possible delays in development. For example, if a child does not use sentences of two to four words by age 2 or doesn’t sit without help by age 9 months, he shows signs of a possible developmental delay. Not all delays are cause for concern because children meet milestones at their own pace; some children walk by 10 months while others don’t meet that milestone until 14 months. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about lack of acquiring a milestone. Pay attention to all skill areas because it is common for a child to reach adequate skills in language, for example, but be developmentally behind in physical skills. The University of Michigan Health System states that early intervention is ideal for the best possible progress in your child’s development.

Considerations

Familiarizing yourself with milestones helps you identify possible developmental delays. You can also make copies of a milestone chart and circle any areas you feel need further development or assessment from your doctor. The University of Michigan Health System suggests bringing up any concerns at your well-child visits. Do not panic if your child does not reach a milestone by the age listed on the chart; failure to reach a milestone on a precise date does not necessarily indicate a problem, so think of the chart as a guideline rather than a list of hard facts.

How to Teach Your Child to Walk

Help your little guy build strong leg, back and neck muscles through play. To start walking, a child must be able to stand upright and feel comfortable enough to shift all his weight to one foot. In the early months, he'll build his back and neck muscles by playing on his tummy -- and then he'll likely progress to sitting and crawling. You can also work his leg muscles by holding him and letting him "jump" or placing him in a jumper or an activity center that encourages him to move while standing.

Hold your child's hands when she stands. As your baby gets ready for walking, she'll start to pull up and stand. Holding lightly to her hands helps her keep her balance. If she seems confident, you can let go, allowing her to stand on her own.

Encourage cruising by placing toys just out of reach. "Cruising" is when a baby starts to walk by holding onto the furniture. You can help him do this by placing a toy he wants at the other end of the couch and cheering him on as he moves toward it.

Flex his walking skills with your hands or a push toy. Though the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of infant walkers due to potential injuries, a push toy can help your child walk without fear. Choose one that's sturdy and won't move too quickly. Alternatively, you can let your child walk around while holding your hands.

Play "Come to Mama" to get baby to take her first steps. As she stands holding onto a table or close to a friend or relative, place yourself a few steps away and hold out your hands, encouraging her to "Come to Mama."

Tip

Some babies prefer crawling even after they've taken their first steps. Don't feel discouraged if your baby isn't too keen on walking.