Developmental Skills for Children: Milestones, Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Developmental Milestones
  • 0:36 Social Emotional Development
  • 2:34 Language/Communication…
  • 3:36 Cognitive Development
  • 4:44 Physical Development
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Bales

Mary was an instructor at Purdue University and has a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies.

You will learn about the social/emotional, language, cognitive, and physical milestones for young children through age 5. Test your knowledge at the end of the lesson with a quiz.

Developmental Milestones

Historically, milestones are stone markers on the side of the road that tell a traveler how close they are to their destination. Developmental milestones are the skills that children gain over time. Like markers on roads, developmental milestones mark developments that typical children can do at different ages. Milestones are helpful to identify children who may be falling behind their peers on a variety of skills at specific ages.

Milestones are broken down into four categories.

Social/Emotional Development

Social/emotional skills refer to skills that involve understanding our own emotions, as well as what we should expect from relationships. These skills are at the heart of young children's understanding of the world around them.

Social/emotional development begins at birth. Let's consider Timothy, a typically developing child.

As soon as Timothy is born, he begins to develop an awareness of others and himself. At birth, he is simply developing his senses in order to interact with his caregivers. By 2 months, he develops his first smiles and later, he communicates through crying. By four months, Timothy can express joy, frustration, surprise, and interest.

Over the next 6 months, he rapidly develops an awareness of himself with others. He coos to attract social attention by 9 months and he is beginning to understand how to play simple, hide and seek games, mostly with adults. By one year, he imitates, has developed an attachment to a primary caregiver, and has an emerging interest to discover and explore his world.

By the time Timothy turns 2, he knows himself by name and recognizes himself in the mirror. While he is beginning to seek out social relationships, they are still awkward and typically require adult mediators. He also has developed the ability to pretend during play time. He may ride a pretend horse or race his cars.

Between ages 2 and 3, Timothy's ability to play with other children emerges. He first embarks on parallel play (i.e., he plays next to another child with limited interaction) and then associative play.

Associative play involves interaction with other children; mom and dad become less interesting to Timothy. By the time Timothy is 4, he fully understands sharing and turn-taking. By age 5, Timothy can express his emotions freely, play emotionally and cooperatively with most of his peers, and can play games with rules.

Language/Communication Development

The first three years of life are key for language development. Language can be receptive (what the child understands) or expressive (what the child says). Infants' first step in language development is crying to communicate. Responsive caregivers will listen to the cries and respond. Especially attentive parents will be able to tell the difference between different types of cries for specific needs. By 6 months, infants begin babbling and between 7 months to a year, they communicate with gestures, listen, and may say their first word or two.

By age 2, children may have some questions and follow simple directions. Between 2 and 3, children will have a word and phrase for almost everything and most adults can understand their words. By age four, they will talk about their friends, their day, and answer questions. Around age 5, children can use adult grammar, rhyming words, and says most sounds correctly (although they may still struggle with the tricky l, s, and r).

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