Development Milestones │ Early Childhood

Development milestones in early childhood offer important clues about your child’s health. They are signs of development of infants and children that emerge over time that form the building blocks for growth and continued learning.

What are milestones?
Milestones are behavioral or physical checkpoints in children’s development that can help parents recognize when a child might need professional attention. Every child is different, and so is every parent’s experience; but experts have a clear idea about the range of normal development — particularly from birth to age 5 — and signs that a child might have a developmental delay.

How your child plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves offers important clues about your child’s development. Developmental milestones are the things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age.  Children who don’t reach milestones may need extra support and services to reach their full potential.

Developmental progress is not always steady. Changes in development may occur around important life events like the birth of a new sibling. By tracking a child’s developmental over time, we can have a better understanding of his or her development and a better basis to judge if concern is warranted.

There are three broad stages of development: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence organized around the five primary skills of development in each stage: cognitive, physical, social and emotional, language and communication, and adaptive. The boundaries of each developmental stage are not rigidly fixed. Every child is unique, and as a result, each child or young adult will have their own distinct learning and behavioral patterns, along with individual challenges that may necessitate attention and intervention. These developmental milestones serve as general guidelines, but they may not necessarily signify the presence of a problem.

Physical Skills
Physical development includes growth and functionality of muscles and body parts. Gross motor skills involve the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso. 
Fine motor skills involve the movement and use of hands and upper extremities.

Cognitive Skills
Cognitive development is critical to a child’s growth. It describes how a child’s brain  develops, and includes skills such as thinking, learning, exploring and problem solving. It also affects other areas of a child’s development, including language and social skills.

Language Skills
Language development milestones measure the child’s receptive (hearing and understanding) and expressive (speech) abilities. Language development starts with sounds and gestures, then words and sentences.

Social/Emotional Skills
Social and emotional development focuses on a child’s ability to express emotions effectively, follow rules and directions, form positive relationships with others, and build confidence.

Adaptive Developmental Skills
Referring to age-appropriate life skills, adaptive & self-care skills focus on the ability for the child to learn self-help skills and self-sufficiency skills so they can live independent and productive lives as adolescents and adults. 

Early Childhood (0-8 Years)
Early childhood constitutes a critical phase in child development, spanning from before birth through the age of 8. The initial five years of this developmental journey hold paramount importance, significantly impacting a child’s health, overall well-being, and future trajectory. This period witnesses a rapid and intricate progression of both the brain and the body. During the first few years of life, astonishingly, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second (as stated by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University). The most remarkable transformation transpires within the initial year, wherein an entirely dependent newborn evolves into a vibrant whirlwind, gradually cultivating a sense of self.

In these initial five years, the brain undergoes rapid expansion, marked by the blossoming of language skills and the maturation of cognitive abilities. Additionally, young children acquire social and emotional skills that enable them to engage with a variety of individuals, including parents, caregivers, friends, and strangers. The experiences and opportunities provided during early childhood lay the groundwork for children’s growth, learning, relationship-building, and readiness for formal schooling.

0-6 Months
In the first six months of life, infants actively absorb, learn from, and respond to their surroundings through their senses. They transition from being a drowsy and vulnerable newborn into a cheerful, babbling baby, with their brains undergoing development. Within this timeframe, they swiftly begin exhibiting early signs of communication, primarily through gaze, smiles, and vocalizations. Their muscles also strengthen noticeably, as they become capable of supporting their own head and, perhaps, even their body by around six months of age.

  • Holds head steady.
  • Bears most of weight when held upright and may even bounce.
  • Rocks back and forth while lying on tummy and may start to push themselves backward.
  • Brings hand to mouth. Puts feet and other objects in mouth.
  • Turns head toward direction of sound. Rolls over in either direction.
  • Tries to pull up to standing position. Can bounce on both legs while holding on. Straightens legs when feet touch a flat surface.
  • Tries to imitate during play (winking or clapping). Imitates behavior of others.
  • Pretends to play like feeding a doll.
  • Explores objects, finds hidden objects and begins to use objects correctly.
  • Begins to sort by shapes and colors, starts simple make-believe play.
  • Interacts with objects in different ways (banging a toy).
  • Begins to connect names with pictures or objects.
  • Scribbles with a crayon.
  • Baby’s first smile is the beginning of a lifetime of communication.
  • Recognizes names and faces. May say single words like Mama or Dada.
  • Interacts with others and responds to other people’s emotions. Uses exclamations such as oh-oh.
  • Relishes the use of no to indicate dislike.
  • Repeats sounds or noises to gain attention or get a specific reaction; repeats words overheard in conversation.
  • Uses simple gestures like shaking head or waving goodbye.
  • Registers environment and recognizes when either mom or dad leaves. Cries when parent leaves.
  • Cries when toy is taken away. 
  • Gets excited about other children. Imitates behavior of others, especially other children and adults.
  • Can differentiate a stranger from someone he or she is familiar. Shows affection to those familiar (snuggles, hugs, kisses).
  • May exhibit tantrums out of frustration when trying to communicate.
  • Recognizes primary carer by smell, sound and sight. 
  • Forms attachments to a small number of important people in their lives and feels safe around these people. Snuggles for security and a sense of safety.  
  • Brings toy to mouth.
  • Points things out to show others. Pokes with index finger.
  • Places both hands on breast or bottle when nursing.
  • Holds own bottle or cup during feedings.

Holds and shakes rattle, plays with and watches their own fingers. Passes toy from one hand to another; reaches for toy with both hands; uses whole hand to grasp a toy.

Babbles with inflection. Puts consonant and vowel sounds together, such as “ba-ba” and “ya-ya.” Responds to name and words overheard in conversation. Uses exclamations such as “oh-oh!” 

Turns head toward direction of sound. Swipes at dangling objects with hands. Interacts with objects in different ways (banging a toy).

6-12 Months
By 12 months, baby has advanced quickly from a helpless newborn to a dynamo that sweetly (or sourly) demands attention and has achieved several key milestones: sit up, crawl, walk with minimal assistance, demonstrate preferences for both people and toys, and comprehend the word “no” (even if they sometimes choose to ignore it). Baby has transitioned from breast milk or formula to mashed or pureed, signaling the onset of baby teeth.

Baby has also developed strong attachments to parents and close family members and are avid learners, exploring their world through their mouths, eyes, ears, and hands. Additionally, they absorb knowledge through stories, songs, rhymes, and interactive games such as peekaboo and patty-cake. 

  • Gets into sitting position on own. Pulls up to a standing position; briefly stands without support. May roll in both directions. May crawl. Walks sideways while holding onto furniture. Takes steps with hands held.
  • Uses hand and fingers to pick up small objects; drops objects into containers and bangs objects together.
  • Transfers objects from one hand to the other. Handles toys in new ways: pulling, turning, poking, tearing; pulls toys behind them.
  • May help with or resist feeding, dressing and undressing.
  • Has more regular sleep patterns. May be more able to settle themselves back to sleep during the night. Usually naps twice during the day. 
  • Likes to play peekaboo, pat-a-cake.  Claps. Finds objects after watching them disappear.
  • Begins to use objects as tools after being shown how.
  • Babbles a lot and copies sounds and actions.  Starts to recognize words and simple phrases; understands the word ‘no.’  Says a few words but not always clearly.  Responds to own name.
  • Starts to realize that people and things exist even when they can’t see them.
  • Responds to sounds by making sounds. Responds to name being called.
  • Strings vowels together when babbling (“ah,” “eh,” “oh”) and likes taking turns with parent.
  • Begins to use consonant sounds (jabbering with “m,” “b”).
  • Says a few words but not always clearly.
  • Uses sounds to convey happiness and displeasure.
  • Interacts with others and responds to other people’s emotions.
  • Starts to recognize words and simple phrases; understands the word ‘no.’
  • Responds to other people’s emotions and often seems happy.
  • Likes to look at self in mirror.
  • May be anxious around strangers. Throws tantrums out of frustration.
  • Excited about other children; imitates behavior of others.
  • Shows affection to those familiar (snuggles, hugs, kisses). Cries or clings to you when parent starts to leave.
  • Enjoys being around people but may be anxious around strangers. Points things out to show others; pokes with index finger.
  • Holds own bottle. Holds cup with two hands; drinks with assistance.
  • Feeds self finger foods using thumb and fingertips; begins to hold spoon and attempts to feed self.
  • Holds out arms and legs while being dressed.
  • Plays purposefully with toys.

Baby is fascinated by reflection, speaks to reflection and plays peekaboo and patty cake. 

Likes to stack, nest and put things in and out of containers. Enjoys cause-and-effect toys: light up and musical toys.

Gets excited at the sight of food. Feeds self finger foods using thumb and fingertips; begins to hold spoon and attempts to feed self.

12-24 Months
At the age of 12 months, a baby transitions into the toddler stage, displaying a pronounced desire for independence. This phase is occasionally referred to as the ‘terrible twos’ because managing a toddler’s ceaseless energy and activity can be challenging. Toddlers also possess a strong urge to explore, engage in play, and experiment with new activities. They’re eager to touch, taste, and test things – this is their primary mode of learning. Moreover, they embark on a journey of understanding the world by interacting with those around them and deciphering the mechanics of their surroundings.

As their emotional awareness and language abilities mature, tantrums may occur when they become frustrated while attempting to convey their feelings. 

  • Crawls or walks up and down the stairs one step at a time, holding on to a railing or hand. Walks backwards or sideways while pulling a toy. Walks holding a hand and then on their own.
  • Squats while playing without falling.
  • Tries to throw a ball. Kicks or rolls a large ball back-and-forth; runs but falls and runs into things.  Learns to kick a ball while standing.
  • Begins to unlatch, unscrew, and open things and take them apart. Helps put toys away.
  • Squeezes, pokes, and pats playdough.
  • Begins to know that things exist even if they cannot see them. 
  • Develops food likes and dislikes (preferences).
  • Likes to look for dropped or hidden objects. Points to ask and to show interest in things. Points to familiar objects or body parts, when asked. 
  • Follows simple instructions. Begins pretend play. Can finish simple wooden puzzles.
  • Likes simple games and rhymes such as ‘hide-and-seek’ and ‘itsy bitsy spider.
  • Likes simple stories, picture books, songs and rhymes. Turns the pages of a book.
  • Scribbles. Points to pictures in books.
  • Uses around eight or more words. Uses two- to three-word sentences. Says more words every month—these words may not be clear. Understands more words than they can say.
  • Says “no” and “mine” a lot. Waves ‘bye.’
  • Explores and plays from the secure base of the parent or caregiver.  Imitates parent activities.
  • Has tantrums when frustrated or tired. Gets frustrated when they’re not able to do things which can lead them to hit, slap or bite.
  • Starts recognizing emotions in themselves and others. Starts to show concern for others. Tries to comfort others.
  • Shows affection. May be shy around strangers. Shows interest in other children.
  • Finds comfort in routines. 
  • Plays peek-a-boo. Plays hide-and-seek. Copies what others do (imitates) such as clapping hands and sweeping with a broom.
  • Finds it hard to share. Feels strong ownership and keeps toys to themselves.
  • Recognizes themselves and their family in pictures.
  • Explores and plays from the secure base of the parent or caregiver.
  • Develops a fear of strange objects and events. 
  • Feels anxious when separated from parents (separation anxiety).  Has tantrums when frustrated or tired. Gets frustrated when they’re not able to do things which can lead them to hit, slap or bite.
  • Shows affection.  Starts recognizing emotions in themselves and others.
  • Begins to need and want independence. Resists limits.
  • Learns about making friends and being a friend.
  • Drinks from cup independently.  Helps feed themselves and will try things such as picking up food with their fingers, feeding themself with a spoon and is messy.
  • Takes off clothes. Takes off socks and shoes (when laces are undone).  Puts arms through sleeve and legs through pants legs. Unzips large zipper.
  • Indicates toilet needs.  May show interest in using the toilet.
  • Tries to wash face and hands.
  • Helps put toys away.

Climbs onto things (chairs, sofas, tables) or climbs out of things (cribs, highchairs, strollers). Likes riding toys.

Has more fears and anxieties, including night terrors that peak at 2 years old. Has a favorite toy or blanket for comfort and security.

Moving to a beat helps toddler integrate movement. A toddler will start dancing between 15-20 months, particularly if parents dance around because kids will imitate what they see.

2-3 Years
During their second year, toddlers exhibit a compelling urge to explore, engage in play, and venture into uncharted territory. They’re eager to touch, taste, and experiment with various things, all while displaying an array of physical activities such as talking, walking, climbing, jumping, running, and brimming with boundless energy. In this period, toddlers are in the process of acquiring fresh skills across multiple domains, encompassing language, cognition, and motor abilities. They actively learn and engage with the world by connecting with those around them, steadily expanding their vocabulary by picking up new words regularly. Furthermore, they can discern shapes and colors, possibly demonstrating an interest in toilet training.

  • Walks, runs, climbs, kicks and jumps, and falls less.
  • Walks up and down stairs alone but sometimes uses rail for balance.
  • Stands on tiptoes and balances on one foot.
  • Squats to play and rises without using hands for support.
  • Catches ball rolled to him/her. Walks towards a ball to kick it.
  • Jumps from a low step or over low objects. Attempts to balance on one foot
  • Avoids obstacles; able to open doors.
  • Moves to music; turns pages one at a time.
  • Starts simple make-believe play; imitates behavior of others and more complex adult actions (playing house, pretending to do laundry, etc.).
  • Begins to use pronouns (I, you, me) and sometimes remembers plurals. Understands concept of mine or hers/his.
  • Matches objects with their uses; names objects in a picture book.
  • Enjoys playing with sand, water, dough.
  • Responds to simple directions.
  • Sorts objects by category (i.e., animals, flowers, trees, etc.)
  • Stacks rings on a peg from largest to smallest.
  • Builds a tower of five to seven objects, lines up objects in ‘train’ fashion.
  • Recognizes names of familiar people.
  • Labels own gender. Understands concept of mine or hers/his.
  • Uses 2-4-word sentences then moves to simple micro-sentences to communicate. Uses pronouns and prepositions, simple sentences and phrases.
  • Vocabulary explodes. Conversation skills continue to develop.
  • Still mastering difficult sounds but is understandable.
  • Asks lots of questions.
  • Makes music, sings and dances.
  • Likes listening to stories and books.
  • Enjoys playing with other children. Plays together for short periods but easily gets upset and cross with each other.
  • Unlikely to share toys without protest.
  • Shows affection for playmates/friends; begins to make friends.
  • Likes telling stories, singing and reading and playing with fingerpaints.
  • Expresses wide range of emotions. Shows strong attachment to a parent.
  • Imitates behavior of others.
  • Begins to show guilt or remorse for misdeeds.
  • Uses spoon, little spilling. Self-feeds using utensils and a cup. Can drink from fountain or faucet independently.
  • Opens door by turning handle. Turns on the faucet and washes own hands.
  • Can wash themselves at bath time and get dressed with help.
  • Takes off and puts on coat with assistance. May pull pants up and down.
  • Start practicing snaps and zipping up (if you start the zip)

Kicks a ball. Runs. Walks (not climbs) up a few stairs with or without help. Can ride a tricycle on their own.

Recites favorite books & nursery rhymes. Points to things in a book when you ask, like “Where is the bear?” Likes listening to stories.

Plays next to other children and sometimes plays with them. Shows you what she can do by saying, “Look at me!”

This is a phase where their imagination takes flight. They relish trips to parks and playgrounds and enthusiastically embrace the world of make-believe, honing their skills and emulating situations they encounter in their surroundings. As they grow increasingly independent, toddlers begin to manifest intense emotions and test boundaries, occasionally resorting to temper tantrums as they assert their autonomy.


3-5 Years
Now a preschooler, your child is eager to explore and begins to show independence and desire to make friendships. Your preschooler’s ability to think and learn reaches beyond the basics of the world around them. They start thinking about and understanding things they can’t see or touch. They can speak in longer sentences, argue a lot and will begin asking lots of ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions as they try to understand more about the world.  They enjoy playing with other kids, learning rules and taking turns. And begin to form real friendships as they develop their social skills.

  • Hops, jumps and runs with ease. Gallops and skips by leading with one foot.
  • Control big muscle movements more easily — they may be able to start, stop, turn, and go around obstacles while running.
  • Walks more smoothly forward and backward. Walks up and down stairs without help.
  • Transfers weight forward to throw ball; attempts to catch ball with hands.
  • Holds crayon/pencil between thumb and first two fingers.
  • Imitates a variety of shapes when drawing; independently cuts paper with scissors.
  • Enjoys learning simple rhythm and movement routines. Pedals and steers a tricycle or bike.
  • Understands opposites and positional words. Gets abstract ideas like “bigger,” “less,” “later,” “ago,” and “soon.”
  • Has a longer attention span. Sticks with an activity for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Begins to understand the difference between real and make-believe. Understands that pictures and symbols stand for real things. Understands time in terms of morning, night, and days of the week. 
  • Explores relationships between ideas, using words like if and when to express them. Starts thinking in logical steps, which means seeing the “how-tos” and consequences of things.
  • Remembers and talks about things that happened in the past, using phrases like “the other day” or “a long time ago”
  • May follow 2- and 3-step directions, like “brush your teeth, wash your face, and put on your pajamas.”
  • Recites favorite books and nursery rhymes with you. Remembers and retells favorite stories.
  • Uses objects and materials to build or construct things. Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes.
  • Builds tower using 8-10 blocks. Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts.
  • Counts to 20 or more; may write some numbers and letters unprompted.
  • Follows simple instructions and enjoys helping others.
  • Recognize shapes in the real world. Starts sorting things by attributes like size, shape, and color. Groups toys by type, size, or color.
  • Compares and contrasts things like height, size, or gender.
  • Speaks in sentences and uses many different words clearly. Answers simple questions; asks many questions.
  • Pronounces most sounds correctly, but still have trouble with s, w, and r sounds.
  • Tells a simple story using full sentences. Makes up stories and talk about what they’re thinking. Can recite name and address.
  • Talks constantly and likes to experiment with new words. Uses adult forms of speech. Takes part in conversations. Uses future tense; for example, “Grandma will be here.”
  • Enjoys jokes, rhymes and stories. Sings silly songs, makes up goofy words, and starts rhyming.
  • Follows simple, unrelated directions (“Go find your shoes and pick up that toy.”)
  • Changes speech patterns depending on who is involved in a conversation, like speaking in short sentences to a younger sibling.
  • Asks for the definition of unfamiliar words. Argues, even though the argument might not be logical.
  • Shares, smiles and cooperates with peers. More likely to agree with rules. Wants to please friends and wants to be like friends.
  • Starts playing with other kids; separates from parents and caregivers more easily. Develops social skills and enjoys telling silly jokes.
  • Begins telling small lies to get out of trouble, even though they know it’s wrong. Starts tattling and acting a little bossy
  • Attains gender stability (sure she/he is a girl/boy) and may enforce gender-role norms with peers.
  • May praise themselves and be boastful.
  • Likes to sing, dance, and act for an audience.
  • Can tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.
  • Shows and expresses a wider range of emotion.
  • Is sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative
  • May show bouts of aggression with peers,
  • May still have tantrums because of changes in routine or not getting what they want.
  • Understands when someone is hurt and comforts them.
  • Likes to give and receive affection from parents.
  • Dresses and undresses with little help (zippers, snaps, and buttons may still be a little hard). Buttons and unbuttons large buttons and laces shoes.
  • Pours well from small pitcher; spreads soft butter with knife. Cuts easy foods with a knife.
  • Washes hands independently; blows nose when reminded. Uses toilet independently.
  • Exhibits hand preference.
  • Feeds self with minimum spills.

Climbs playground equipment with increasing agility. Hops, jumps and runs with ease.

Able to complete three- to four-piece puzzles quickly.

Engages in more complicated pretend-play, like pretending a box is a spaceship.

5-8 Years
The edge of middle childhood brings many changes in a child’s life. By this time, children can dress themselves, catch a ball more easily using only their hands, and tie their shoes. Having independence from family becomes more important now. Events such as starting school bring children this age into regular contact with the larger world. Friendships become more and more important. Physical, social, and mental skills develop quickly at this time. This is a critical time for children to develop confidence in all areas of life, such as through friends, schoolwork, and sports.

  • Walks backward. Walks heel-to-toe without losing balance.
  • Runs on toes. Jumps down several steps. Hops proficiently.
  • Balances on alternate feet (eyes open or closed).
  • Throws and catches a ball using hands more than arms.
  • Can jumps rope, roller skate and ride a two-wheel bicycle.
  • Moves in time to the beat or rhythm of music.
  • Shows fast growth in mental ability.
  • Learns better ways to describe experiences, thoughts and feelings.
  • Has less focus on self and more concern for others.
  • Can focus on one trait or idea at a time, which makes it hard to understand complex issues.
  • Understands some concepts of time – for example, night, day and yesterday. 
  • Can tell the difference between right and left. Knows what day of the week it is.
  • Has a black-and-white perspective much of the time. Things are either great or awful, ugly or beautiful, right or wrong.
  • Focus and attention span improves.
  • Starts verbally expressing a sense of humor.
  • Understands that single words might have different meanings depending on context.
  • Begins using longer words, learning that the beginnings and endings of words can change their meaning.  May mispronounce a few words. 
  • Reads simple stories and can read simple sentences. 
  • Plays rhyming games with words.
  • Understands what they’re reading.
  • Mostly uses the correct forms of verbs for past and future events. 
  • Starts to understand jokes and riddles and using language in an abstract way.
  • Knows how to count by 2s and 5s and completes simple single-digit addition and subtraction problems.
  • Improves pronunciation and learns to follow more commands.
  • Shows more independence from parents and family. Enjoys being around friends.
  • Starts to think about the future. Understands more about his or her place in the world. 
  • Has rapidly-changing emotions. Angry outbursts are common.
  • Pays more attention to friendships and teamwork.
  • Opinions of their friends become increasingly important. Peer pressure may become an issue.
  • Gains a sense of security from being involved in regular group activities.
  • More likely to follow rules they help create.
  • Likes immediate gratification and finds it hard to wait for things they want.
  • Ties own shoelaces.
  • Draws a diamond shape.
  • Can draw a person with 16 features.
  • Becomes increasingly skilled in hobbies, sports, and active play.

Learns sports involving good physical control. Enjoys opportunities to practice skills.

Begins to understand letters of the alphabet and how words are made of sounds and syllables.

Yearns to be liked and accepted by friends.