What Are Developmental Milestones in Children? - Table, Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Developmental milestones are an important way for anyone working with children to measure their developmental progress in several important areas. Learn four key areas to assess, the main milestones from three months of age to five years and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What Are Developmental Milestones?

Developmental milestones act as checkpoints in a child's development to determine what the average child is able to do at a particular age. Knowing the developmental milestones for different ages helps parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals understand normal child development and also aids in identifying potential problems with delayed development.

For example, a child who is 12 months old typically can stand and support his or her weight by holding on to something. Some children at this age can even walk. If a child reaches 18 months of age but still cannot walk, it might indicate a problem that needs further investigation.

Types of Developmental Milestones

Child development experts look at four categories of developmental milestones:

First, there are physical milestones. The physical milestones pertain to the development of both the large and fine motor skills. The large-motor skills are typically the first to develop in young children and are used in sitting, turning over, crawling, standing, and walking. The fine motor skills develop later and require greater precision for tasks such as using an eating utensil, drawing with a crayon, and picking up small or delicate objects.

Second, there are cognitive or mental milestones, which we'll simply call cognitive milestones. Cognitive milestones refer to the child's developmental abilities to think, learn, and solve problems. A two-year-old being able to point at pictures in a book and give them the correct names and a four-year-old being able to do basic counting are examples of cognitive milestones.

Third, there are social and emotional milestones. Social and emotional milestones pertain to the child's ability to express their own emotion and respond to the social interaction they have with other people. For example, a six-month-old child should begin to recognize familiar faces, while a two-year-old is moving from playing alone to showing interest in playing with other children.

Finally, there are communication and language milestones. Communication and language milestones refer to a child's developing verbal and nonverbal communication skills. For example, a one-year-old is typically learning how to say single words, while a five-year-old can speak in complete sentences and even tell simple stories.

Here are some of the more important developmental milestones from three months of age to five years.

By three months old, a child...

  • Follows a moving object or person with his eyes,
  • Turns toward the sound of a person's voice, and
  • Makes cooing, gurgling sounds.

By six months old, a child...

  • Reaches for and grasps objects,
  • Rolls over, and
  • Recognizes familiar faces.

By 12 months old, a child...

  • Crawls on hands and knees.
  • Stands and supports her own weight, and
  • Says first words.

By two years old, a child...

  • Says sentences the contain two to four words,
  • Follows simple instructions, and
  • Begins to run, walk up, and down stairs.

By three years old, a child...

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Additional Activities

Developmental Milestones in Children

Activity 1:

In the lesson, you learned that developmental milestones should be used as guidelines to describe normative abilities. For this activity imagine that you are a parent of a child who just turned two yesterday. After giving him a big birthday party and gifts, when he appeared to enjoy the boxes that the gifts came in more than the gifts themselves, and when he got icing all over his face trying to feed himself cake, you look in your book of developmental milestones. You notice that a child between 18 and 24 months should be using two-word sentences and short phrases. Your child is not doing that! All of his other milestones, physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic have been on track up to this point. What should you do? Should you worry? Is some variation normal? Write two to three paragraphs addressing what you think is going on and what you feel you should do about it.

Activity 2:

In early childhood, developmental milestones are largely maturational, meaning that they develop due to biological maturation. Do you think that older siblings and parents can hasten any of the different types of milestones (physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic) such that they occur earlier? Which types of milestones may be more influenced by the environment, and what can older siblings and parents do to stimulate a young child to achieve milestones earlier? Write an opinion paper about this topic.

Activity 3:

For this activity, you need to go to a place where young children congregate (e.g., a playground). Unobtrusively observe the children in terms of their development. Compare their abilities with the abilities of the other children, and with the list of developmental milestones from the lesson after you estimate their chronological age. Do all of the children appear to be on track? Do you notice any who might be somewhat delayed? After observing for 45 minutes, jot down your observations and impressions in a journal entry (do not take notes while watching the children, because this may make parents understandably nervous).

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