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Stages of Development

Every child is a unique person with an individual temperament, learning style, family background, and pattern and timing of growth. There are, however, universal, predictable sequences of growth and change that occur during the first nine years of life. As children develop, they need different types of stimulation and interaction to exercise their evolving skills and to develop new ones. At every age, meeting basic health and nutritional needs is essential.

What children do What children need

Birth to 3 months

  • Begin to smile
  • Track people and objects with eyes
  • Prefer faces and bright colors
  • Reach, discover hands and feet
  • Lift head and turn toward sound
  • Cry, but often soothed when held
  • Protection from physical danger
  • Adequate nutrition
  • Adequate health care
  • Motor and sensory stimulation
  • Appropriate language stimulation
  • Responsive, sensitive parenting

4 to 6 months

  • Smile often
  • Prefer parents and older siblings
  • Repeat actions with interesting results
  • Listen intently, respond when spoken to
  • Laugh, gurgle, imitate sounds
  • Explore hands and feet
  • Put objects in mouth
  • Sit when propped, roll over, scoot, bounce
  • Grasp objects without using thumb

All of the above

7 to 12 months

  • Remember simple events
  • Identify themselves, body parts, familiar voices
  • Understand own name, other common words
  • Say first meaningful words
  • Explore, bang, shake objects
  • Find hidden objects, put objects in containers
  • Sit alone
  • Creep, pull themselves up to stand, walk
  • May seem shy or upset with strangers

All of the above

1 to 2 years

  • Imitate adult actions
  • Speak and understand words and ideas
  • Enjoy stories and experimenting with objects
  • Walk steadily, climb stairs, run
  • Assert independence, but prefer familiar people
  • Recognize ownership of objects
  • Develop friendships
  • Solve problems
  • Show pride in accomplishments
  • Like to help with tasks
  • Begin pretend play

  In addition to the above, support in:

  • Acquiring motor, language, and thinking skills
  • Developing independence
  • Learning self-control
  • Opportunities for play and exploration
  • Play with other children

2 to 3 1/2 years

  • Enjoy learning new skills
  • Learn language rapidly
  • Always on the go
  • Gain control of hands and fingers
  • Are easily frustrated
  • Act more independent, but still dependent
  • Act out familiar scenes

  In addition to above, opportunities to:

  • Make choices
  • Engage in dramatic play
  • Read increasingly complex books
  • Sing favorite songs
  • Work simple puzzles

3-1/2 to 5 years

  • Have a longer attention span
  • Act silly, boisterous, may use shocking language
  • Talk a lot, ask many questions
  • Want real adult things, keep art projects
  • Test physical skills and courage with caution
  • Reveal feeling in dramatic play
  • Like to play with friends, do not like to lose
  • Share and take turns sometimes

  In addition to above, opportunities to:

  • Develop fine motor skills
  • Continue expanding language skills by talking, reading, and singing
  • Learn cooperation by helping and sharing
  • Experiment with pre-writing and pre-reading skills

5 to 8 years

  • Grow curious about people and how the world works
  • Show an increasing interest in numbers, letters, reading and writing
  • Become more and more interested in final products
  • Gain more confidence in physical skills
  • Use words to express feeling and to cope
  • Like grown-up activities
  • Become more outgoing, play cooperatively

  In addition to above, opportunities to:

  • Develop numeracy and reading skills
  • Engage in problem-solving
  • Practice teamwork
  • Develop sense of personal competency
  • Practice questioning and observing
  • Acquire basic life skills
  • Attend basic education

Source: Adapted from Toys: Tools for Learning, National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1985; Ready or Not ... What Parents Should Know About School Readiness, National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1995; Donohue-Colletta, 1992, information provided by Judith L. Evans of the Consultative Group; and "Investing in Young Children," Mary Eming Young, The World Bank, 1995.

Related Internet links: Child Development Theory

Requirements for Child Development  |  Early Child Development Home Page

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