Early childhood development MILESTONES AND HOW TO ACHIEVE THEM

Early childhood development MILESTONES AND HOW TO ACHIEVE THEM

Children are beautiful just as they are and all we need to do is guide them to do develop and grow into individuals who can think clearly on their own. One thing we need to understand as parents and educators is that every child is unique and different from one another. Developmental milestones are indicators that tell you the abilities that an average child can achieve at a certain age. These milestones can involve physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and communication skills such as walking, sharing with others, expressing emotions, recognising familiar sounds, and talking.

The milestones can help identify potential delays in development and the parent can get help from a doctor, if needed. Delays can be identified by a parent, teacher or a caretaker who is closely involved in bringing up the child.


The first five years of a child’s life is most crucial in their overall development and it is important that he/she is observed very closely to understand their development and to see if they are achieving milestones. Children may be observed by their parent, caretaker or their preschool teacher and any gaps in development need to be discussed and tended to. Early intervention in any case can lead to much better results.


Children start becoming independent at this age and tasks requiring balance and hand-eye coordination begin to emerge. During this stage of development, most children are able to:

Pick things up while standing up

Walk backwards

Walk up and down the stairs without assistance

Move and sway to music

Colour or paint by moving the entire arm

Scribble with markers or crayons

Turn knobs and handles


Building on earlier skills, children become increasingly adept at activities that require coordination and speed. From two to three years of age, most children begin to:

Run in a forward direction

Jump in one place

Kick a ball

Stand on one foot

Turn pages of a book

Draw a circle

Hold a crayon between the thumb and fingers


Children develop better movement and balance skills. From age three to four, most kids begin to:

Ride a tricycle

Go down a slide without help

Throw and catch a ball

Pull and steer toys

Walk in a straight line

Build a tall towers with toy blocks

Manipulate clay into shapes


During this period of development, children become increasingly confident in their abilities. Most children begin to:

Jump on one foot

Walk backwards

Do somersaults

Cut paper with safety scissors

Print some letters

Copy shapes including squares and crosses

It is important that a child is given a safe environment to explore, be it at home or in school. Parents and teachers can encourage a child by introducing them to new objects and letting them explore and grab and hold them. To aid proper physical development, nutritious and age-appropriate food is a must. Shelter, warmth, clean air and environment, health care and proper activity and rest are also mandatory for proper physical development.


Cognitive milestones are centered around the child’s ability to think, learn and react. Cognitive milestones are equally important and need to be observed for every child as they grow.


When a child turns one, his/her cognitive skills grow exponentially. They are old enough to observe adults and even emulate their actions. So it is important for parents and caretakers to set good examples to the child. Most one-year-olds begin to:

Understand and respond to words

Identify objects that are similar

Tell the difference between "Me" and "You"

Imitate the actions and language of adults

Point out familiar objects and people in a picture book

Learn through exploration


Two-year-olds learn a lot from their experiences since they are old enough to explore on their own. With a little assistance and guidance, they can do wonders. Most two-year-olds are able to:

Sort objects by category (i.e., animals, flowers, trees, etc.)

Stack rings on a peg from largest to smallest Imitate more complex adult actions (playing house, pretending to do laundry, etc.)

Identify their own reflection in the mirror by name

Respond to simple directions from parents and caregivers

Name objects in a picture book

Match objects with their uses


Children become increasingly capable of analysing the world around them in more complex ways. Since children are becoming much more active in the learning process, they also begin to pose questions about the world around them. At this age, the little explorers are able to ask “why” questions which is a sign of deep curiosity and that should be encouraged.

At the age of three, most kids are able to:

Demonstrate awareness of the past and present

Actively seek answers to questions

Learn by observing and listening to instructions

Organise objects by size and shape

Understand how to group and match object according to colour

Have a longer attention span of around 5 to 15 minutes

Asks "why" questions to gain information


As they near school age, children become better at using words, imitating adult actions, counting and other basic activities that are important for school preparedness. Most four-year-olds are able to:


Name and identify many colours

Draw the shape of a person

Count to five

Tell where they live

Draw pictures that they often name and describe

Cognitive development can be boosted by being patient and answering your child’s queries. Although there maybe too many questions which your toddler may ask, it is important that the teacher or parent communicates and responds to them. It will make them sharper and more aware of what is happening around them. It is also important to give your child a chance to make a choice. For example, you can ask a child, “Would you like to colour the picture with blue or green?” - a question that will force the child to think and make a decision.

Singing along with your child and encouraging him/her to sing also boosts cognitive development. Practicing shapes, colours and counting are also great activities to involve your toddler in. Schools can take children to the post-office or the vegetable vendor to introduce new concepts to their preschoolers. Playing with everyday items like helping your toddler look at his own reflection on a steel plate or making music by banging hands on a table can be great exercises to boost cognitive ability.


This is yet another very important set of milestones. Social and emotional milestones deal with the child’s emotions, how they express themselves and how they interact and play with other children.


During this age, kids often spend more time interacting with a lot of people. They also start to gain a greater sense of self-awareness. At this stage, most can:

Recognise their own image in the mirror

Initiate play activities

Play independently, often imitating adult actions

Act pleased when they accomplish something

Start trying to help, often by putting toys away

Express negative emotions including anger and frustration

Become more self-assertive and may try to direct the actions of others


During the toddler years, kids become more and more creative and confident. At two years old, most kids begin to:

Become aware that they are a boy or girl

Begin to dress and undress themselves

Demonstrate personal preferences about toys, food, and activities

Start saying "No" to adults

Enjoy watching and playing with other children

Become defensive about their own possessions

Use objects symbolically during play

Often have rapid changes in mood


Because three-year-olds are becoming increasingly able to perform physical actions, their sense of confidence and independence becomes more pronounced at this age. During the third year, most children begin to:

Follow directions

Perform some tasks with little or no assistance

Share toys with other kids

Make up games and ask other children to join in

Begin engaging in pretend play


During the fourth year, children gain a greater awareness of their own individuality. As their physical skills increase, they are more capable of exploring their own abilities which can help lead to great confidence and personal pride. At this age, most kids begin to:

Understand basic differences between good and bad behaviour

Develop friendships with other kids

Compare themselves to other children and adults

Become more aware of other people’s feelings

Enjoy dramatic, imaginative play with other children

Enjoy competitive games

It is important that the parent or the teacher gives consistent rules to the child so that they get to know that the world is orderly and they also need to be aware of what happens when rules are broken. Children need to be given an opportunity to play with others and explore their own emotions. If you see a child giving an unsuitable emotional response to some event, he/she needs to be told that the reaction is unacceptable and an alternative response needs to be given so that they learn.

It is important to be caring and nurturing. Loving touches and encouraging words make your child feel that he/she is special. When they feel loved, they will learn to love others the same way. A child also needs to be helped in resolving conflicts in a healthy and appropriate way.


Communication milestones involve verbal and nonverbal communication. Children go from making babbling sounds to saying their first word to speaking small sentences in a very short period of time. It is very important that the parent and teacher speaks to the child to encourage their speech. It is amazing how children can understand a great deal of language spoken to them even before they utter their first word.


During the first year, the use of language begins to grow considerably. Developmental researchers often refer to this period as the two-word stage because most kids begin to use simple, two-word sentences. Starting around the age of 18 months, children begin to learn estimated 9 to 10 new words each day. At one year of age, most children start to:

Understand basic commands such as "Eat your cereal"

Use "mine" to indicate possession of objects

Have a vocabulary that includes several words that are spoken clearly

Often use other words that are less clearly spoken and only family members can understand

Start to string together simple words in order to describe things or events


During the second year, children begin to use language in more complex ways. By the age of 24 months, approximately half of all a child's utterances are at least two words long. During this period of development, children also:

Have specific words to describe most things

Are understood by family members

Begin using adverbs and adjectives

Use two to three-word sentences

Can describe what happened during the day


At age three, children begin to develop more advanced language and communication skills. Most people outside the family are able to understand what the child is saying at this point and the child can carry on conversations using two to three sentences at a time. Other abilities that begin to emerge include:

Can understand and use sentences

Begins using the past tense and plurals

Able to follow a series of two to four directions

Can understand and use sentences that utilise time ("I'm going to the zoo tomorrow.")

Learn and sing songs


Between the ages of four and five, children become increasingly skilled at conversing. Not only are they able to talk about cause-and-effect, they are also able to use and understand different comparative language such as fast, faster, and fastest. Some other communication milestones that are achieved during this time period include:

Able to follow a string of up to three unrelated instructions

Enjoys listening to longer stories and can remember them with some accuracy

Uses sentences that average around four to five words

Can combine various thoughts into a single sentence

Asks questions about how, when, and why things happen

Can talk about imaginary or future things ("I wish that…" or "I hope that…")

To enable communication milestones, it is important to speak to your child and listen as well. Children are far more likely to share their ideas and feelings if they know they won’t be judged, teased, or criticised. You can empathise with a child’s experience, yet disagree with his behaviour. Encourage pretend play.

The above milestones are defined to catch any difficulties your child/student may be facing and to facilitate an early intervention to correct them. However, each child develops at his/her own pace and it is important to not jump to conclusions and give a chance to the child to achieve a certain milestone. Some developmental milestones build on one another. Achieving a milestone earlier doesn't mean that the child is gifted and achieving it late does not mean that your child is delayed. It is just an individual difference that simply asserts the fact that each child is unique and each child needs to be given individual attention.

Preschool teachers spend a lot of time with their students and are capable of finding differences in abilities at a much faster rate. If a child is failing to achieve milestones at an expected rate, it is important to take him/her to a healthcare specialist and get him/her evaluated. There are multiple programmes that can help a child achieve milestones and an early intervention always leads to successful outcomes.

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