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Ages and Stages

During the first five years of life, children grow at an amazing rate. While all children learn and develop at their own unique pace, broad guidelines can help you understand what to expect at different ages. The chart below is to give you a rough idea of when your baby might reach certain levels of growth and development.

Keep in mind that no two babies are the same, and that it is not unusual for children to develop faster in some areas and slower in others. Don’t panic if your child reaches an age category without reaching all of the milestones listed, but do pay attention to the progress she is making. Bring up any concerns you might have with your doctor.

View short video clips to learn more about supporting the social and emotional development of your child.

Birth to 15 months Hi-bandwidth                Lo-bandwidth
15 months to 2 1/2 years Hi-bandwidth       Lo-bandwidth
2 1/2 years to 4 years Hi-bandwidth           Lo-bandwidth
4 years to 5 years old Hi-bandwidth           Lo-bandwidth

En español:
Nacimiento a 15 meses Hi-bandwidth         Lo-bandwidth
15 meses a 2 años del 1/2 Hi-bandwidth     Lo-bandwidth
2 años del 1/2 a 4 años Hi-bandwidth         Lo-bandwidth
4 años a 5 años Hi-bandwidth                    Lo-bandwidth

From birth to 15 months:

    Cognitive Development
  • Imitates gestures and actions
  • Likes to explore objects by taking them apart
  • Responds to simple directions
  • Says a few words besides “mama” and “dada”
  • Likes to be read to
    Physical Development
  • Can hold a crayon and make a mark on paper
  • Uses both hands- may start showing a preference for one
  • Can stand unaided and starts to walk
  • Enjoys repetitive actions (turning lights on and off)
  • Pushes and pulls objects
    Social and Emotional Development
  • Smiles spontaneously
  • Recognizes self in mirror
  • Is dependent on a familiar adult
  • Shows emotions like anger, happiness, fear, affection
  • Imitates adult behavior in play
    Possible Red Flags
  • Does not appear to hear/react to sounds
  • Does not move around much, for example, does not crawl or roll, or pull self up to stand
  • Does not interact playfully with care-giver, or brothers and sisters
  • Does not understand simple sentences

By around 2 and a half years:

    Cognitive Development
  • Vocabulary increases, may form 2-3 word sentences and ask for things to drink
  • Enjoys being read to, and if asked, can point out/name familiar objects in a storybook
  • Enjoys songs and rhymes and tries to join in
  • Has a limited attention span
  • When playing, carries on a monologue in own language, “babbles”
  • Better at understanding others than expressing self
    Physical Development
  • Hand preference usually starts to show
  • Can run, but doesn’t always stop or turn well
  • Builds small towers out of blocks
  • Moves in response to music
  • Holds crayon with fingers and scribbles to and fro, makes dots
    Social and Emotional Development
  • Enjoys “helping” with everyday tasks
  • Sometimes very affectionate with other children, hugging and kissing
  • Will initiate own play and play alone, but will start to join other children as well
  • Will initiate conversations with familiar adults
  • May find it difficult to wait/take turns/share
    Possible red flags
  • Does not walk confidently/has more than just a few falls
  • Does not carry out simple two-step directions
  • Does not show an interest in watching or imitating other children
  • Does not string 2-3 words together to form a sentence
  • Does not respond to familiar rhymes, chants or songs by trying to participate, physically or orally

By about four years

    Cognitive Development
  • Is curious, probably asks a lot of what, why and how questions
  • Has a vocabulary of around 1000 words
  • Begins to understand concept of time: “yesterday,” “summer,” past and present
  • Knows several nursery rhymes
  • Can compare sizes and shapes (bigger or smaller) and match some colors
    Physical Development
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Can remove and put on most articles of clothing (without complicated fastenings)
  • Can go up and down stairs
  • Can throw a ball overhand, and kick a ball with some force
  • Can copy circles
    Social and Emotional Development
  • Joins in play with other children
  • Begins to share toys and take turns with assistance/instruction
  • In familiar surroundings, will separate easily from familiar adults
  • Begins dramatic play, possibly acting out whole scenes
  • Begins to learn simple games and the meaning of rules
    Possible Red Flags
  • Has poor balance, and frequently falls and bumps into things
  • Does not seem happy playing near or with other children
  • Rarely stays involved in activity for more than five or ten minutes
  • Does not use three to four word sentences
  • Is not easily understood most of the time by people outside the family
  • Does not appear to understand when others speak, even though hearing is normal

By around 5 years

    Cognitive Development
  • Concepts of time get stronger; might talk about last week or what will happen tomorrow
  • Constantly asking all sorts of questions, can speak of imaginary conditions, like “I hope”
  • Can repeat or sing several songs or nursery rhymes, knows some shapes and colors
  • Has a large vocabulary, speaks with generally correct grammar
  • Sentence length reaches 4-5 words
    Physical Development
  • Walks up and down stairs independently
  • Can catch and bounce a ball, and throw overhand
  • Can kick a large stationary ball in a specified direction
  • Can run on toes and is usually able to turn or stop to avoid obstacles
  • Holds and uses crayons confidently, can reproduce some shapes and letters
    Social and Emotional Development
  • Separates more easily from a familiar adult
  • Likes to do things for self, and is confident in familiar situations
  • Enjoys playing with other children, usually plays cooperatively
  • Shows interest in gender differences
  • Engages in dramatic, imaginative play, and pays attention to detail, time, and space
    Possible Red Flags
  • Does not speak intelligibly enough to be understood by strangers
  • Does not seem interested or involved in surroundings and immediate activities
  • Is markedly uncoordinated, has lots of accidents, trips and bumps into things often
  • Does not appear to understand when others speak, even though hearing is normal
  • Has an extremely short attention span, moves quickly between activities without completing them
  • Is aggressive and deliberately hurts others, showing no remorse

For more information on developmental milestones, feel free to visit these sites and make use of the information they provide:

Center for Disease Control’s page on developmental markers

University of Michigan’s page on developmental milestones

Zero to Three’s page on developmental milestones