- Identify typical cognitive developmental milestones from birth to age three.
- Discuss what to do if you are concerned about an infant’s or toddler’s development.
Infants and toddlers are born ready to learn. They learn through cuddling with a caregiver, listening to language, trying out sounds, stretching on the floor, reaching for objects, tasting foods, and exploring their environments in countless ways everyday. Their brains go through amazing changes during the first three years of life. This lesson will highlight cognitive developmental milestones for infants and toddlers.
Infants' and toddlers' thinking skills grow as they interact with the world and people around them. As you learned in the first lesson, early experiences matter. Consistent, nurturing experiences help infants and toddlers make sense of the world. Those experiences literally build brain architecture. As infants and toddlers develop, they begin to understand and predict how things work: they open and close a cabinet door over and over, they fill and dump a cup of water in the water table, they bang a spoon on a high chair to hear the sound.
Watching an infant or toddler make new discoveries is truly exciting. Think of how exciting it is the first time an infant stacks blocks (and knocks them down) or the first time a toddler pretends to "read" a book to you. The chart below highlights infant and toddler cognitive development as they grow. Keep in mind that individual differences exist when it comes to the specific age at which infants and toddlers meet these milestones and that each infant and toddler is unique. As you may have already learned in other courses, milestones provide a guide for when to expect certain skills or behaviors to emerge. Think of milestones as guidelines to help you understand and identify typical patterns of growth and development, or to help you know when and what to look for as young children mature. As an infant and toddler caregiver, you can use this information, what you learn from families and your own knowledge in the interactions, experiences, and environments you create for infants and toddlers.
Chart: Cognitive Developmental Milestones
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Developmental Milestones. An electronic resource available from: http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/actearly/pdf/checklists/All_Checklists.pdf
It's important to know that how infants and toddlers are assigned to classrooms may not reflect the age spans listed above. There are programs that regroup children every six months and those that use multi-age or family-style groupings, which keep children and their teachers together for a longer period of time. It is best practice to minimize the number of times infants and toddlers have to transition from one age group to the next.
Cognitive development is a unique process and is specific to each infant, toddler, and family. Many factors influence cognitive development including genes, prenatal events (i.e., before or during birth), and aspects of the child's environment. A family may wonder about their young child's cognitive development and feel uncertain about what they are observing, as well as what to expect. As an infant and toddler caregiver, you have an opportunity to learn first from a family and consider offering additional developmental information, including possible warning signs. The Kids Included Together can be a valuable resource for you (http://www.kitonline.org), as well as the developmental milestones and act early information located on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html. The table below also highlights possible warning signs for infants and toddlers:
Just as children's bodies grow throughout infancy and toddlerhood, their brains are growing too. You will see major changes between birth and three years old in a child's thinking skills. Watch this video to learn about milestones for infants and toddlers.
As an infant and toddler teacher, do the following to support developmental milestones:
- Give infants and toddlers the safe space they need for movement and discovery (areas for climbing, crawling, pulling up, etc.).
- Provide a consistent, nurturing relationship with each infant and toddler.
- Read all you can about the stages of development especially for the ages of the children you serve.
- Post developmental milestone charts for reference.
- Recognize that children need different things from you as they move through the developmental stages.
- Observe children on a regular basis to determine where they are developmentally so you can both support and challenge their emerging skills.
- Remember that children are unique and progress at different rates and that one area of development may take longer than other areas.
- Consult with yourPUBLIC supervisor, trainer, or coach if you feel that there might be a concern with how a child is developing.
Observing infants and toddlers can help you see where they are developmentally which is important as you plan learning experiences for them. Download, print, and complete the Stages of Development Observation activity. Share with your supervisor, trainer, or coach.
It is important to understand and remember developmental milestones. You can download and print the Milestones Posters and use them as a reference in your work. You will find separate posters for infants and toddlers.
|Cognitive skills||The mental skills or behaviors that help children access information, solve problems, reason, and draw conclusions|
|Developmental delay||This may be suspected when children do not meet developmental milestones at the expected times; delays can occur in any area of development|
|Developmental milestones||A set of skills or behaviors that most children can do at a certain age range|
|Developmental screening||A tool used to help identify children who are not developing as expected and who may need supports; screening can be completed by pediatricians, teachers, or others who know both the child and child development well|
Albrecht, K., Miller, L. (2001), Innovations: Infant & Toddler Development. Beltsville, Gryphon House
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Developmental Milestones. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/
Early Head Start National Resource Center. Retrieved from www.ehsnrc.org.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org
Track Your Child's Developmental Milestones. (2011). [Brochure]. Missouri First Steps, Early Intervention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/MO-Wic%20Broch_2_English_508.pdf
Zero to Three. Retrieved from www.zerotothree.org.