Intellectual Development in the Stages of Early Childhood

Early childhood, defined by Medline Plus as the preschool years and earlier, is a time of rapid intellectual development. According to the World Health Organization, it is the most important stage of development, and more than 200 million children in early childhood do not reach their full cognitive potential 2. An understanding of the cognitive milestones you can expect your child to reach, along with the knowledge of what he needs in order to thrive, can help you know if he is on the right track. If you are concerned about your child’s intellectual development, be sure to talk to his doctor.

Birth to 1 Year

Your child’s cognitive development expands rapidly during the first year of life. Responding to her needs and bonding with her in infancy helps to establish important neural connections. In just the first few months after birth, she learns to anticipate events and can distinguish the volume and pitch of different sounds. By 6 months of age, she is able to recognize faces and imitate facial expressions, and by 9 months, she can tell the difference between animate and inanimate objects and has some grasp of depth perception. At 1-year-old, she has an understanding of object permanence and experiments regularly with objects to see how they work.

2 to 3 Years

During this age range, your child expands intellectually through self-directed play and exploration. By 2 years of age, his language development is rapidly increasing, and he can hold short conversations with adults. He is also able to spot similarities between objects and can properly use basic pronouns. At around 3 years old, he will also be able to group similar objects together, identify himself, and engage in dramatic play in order to imitate adults.

4 to 5 Years

In the preschool years, your child is extremely curious and likely to ask a lot of questions about her environment. She also has a better sense of time and is able to identify parts of a whole. Her attention span has increased to five to 15 minutes, according to The Whole Child, and she is rapidly absorbing information by observing 1. Additionally, she is able to draw recognizable pictures and can tell you her name, age, and town.


Although your child will achieve a lot of his early childhood intellectual development through self-exploration and play, there are steps you can take to encourage his development. According to the World Health Organization, a lack of attachment to a consistent caregiver in the first months of life can negatively affect brain development, so be sure you are making an effort to bond. Make sure your child’s diet is healthy and varied since a lack of nutrition can leave him unmotivated, tired, and unable to find the energy he needs to learn through play. Finally, provide him with plenty of space to explore and age-appropriate toys that he can play with.

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