After earning your early childhood education degree, you will spend a lot of time with young learners. The more time you spend with children who have not yet started elementary school, the more you realize how quickly their growth occurs. According to early childhood scholars, 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before kindergarten.1 So, it is critical that early childhood education teachers who work with infants, toddlers and young children are aware of and equipped to nurture the development and enrichment of the children’s speech, physical skills, coordination and emotional expression.
When you are in your early childhood education program, you will learn what developmental milestones are most important to look out for. You will also learn how to encourage children to work towards those milestones and what to do if they are not reaching them in a timely manner.
The Importance of Early Childhood Development Milestones
Early childhood development milestones are important because they help teachers and families know that children are developing skills at an appropriate pace. Children will always differ in how and when they develop some of these skills, but for the most part, early childhood development milestones mark important aspects of growth and development.
These milestones make up a strong foundation for future development and learning, so early childhood educators are especially interested in keeping an eye out for them. If they are not being met, some changes may need to occur in the child’s environment, such as the classroom.
Significant delays in development may show that a child has a medical or psychological condition that needs to be addressed. When an early childhood education teacher keeps in close contact with families and communicates what they see regarding these developmental milestones, they may be able to catch underlying causes that may become bigger issues in the future.
Areas of Early Childhood Development
There are certain categories of milestones that early childhood development teachers watch for, including:
- Social and emotional skills
- Language and communication
- Physical development and movement
- Cognitive abilities, including learning, thinking and problem solving
Anyone who earns their early childhood education degree knows that these four areas intersect in many of the lessons and learning experiences that are done with young children. Teachers develop lessons that include expressing social and emotional feelings, as well as activities that include movement and problem-solving.
These milestone areas do not necessarily occur independently of each other but may develop out of sync. For example, some children who do not yet have strong language and communication skills may act out their emotions through movement or physical expression. Additionally, when a student gets frustrated because they cannot do something, whether physical or mental, they may cry out or use language to express themselves if it is available to them.
Common Early Childhood Developmental Milestones
These are the milestones that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists as the most common for young children, broken down by age in order to help families and early childhood education teachers better understand how and when these elements may develop in children.2
At this stage, a child begins to smile and make eye contact with those around them, tracking movement with their eyes, copying facial expressions and turning toward sounds. While laying on their stomach, the child also begins to hold their own head up. At two to four months of age, a child will also start babbling.
Next, children begin to recognize faces and can identify when someone is a stranger. They can also sit without support, respond to their name and choose favorite toys. At this age, children start to pull themselves up to stand, supporting their weight on their legs and often rocking back and forth or moving backwards before crawling forward.
By one year of age, a child may be nervous with people they don't know and cry when their families leave. They will also start using gestures like waving, holding out their arms and legs to assist with dressing. At one year, a child can also follow simple direction and take steps while holding onto furniture.
At the next stage of development, children begin to initiate play, pointing at things they want and stringing several words together at once. They will eat with utensils, drink from cups and play simple pretend games, such as giving food to a doll. A child will also be able to identify ordinary objects like spoons, phones and hairbrushes.
At two years old, a child will show excitement when around other children and repeat words and sentences they hear others say. They will spend time running, climbing and throwing to entertain themselves and will be able to identify and sort objects by shape and color.
Three-year-old children will show a wide range of emotions, including concern for others. They can play more advanced games of pretend and follow instructions with two to three steps. A child at this stage can also dress and undress themselves, show affection without prompting and speak well enough to be understood by strangers.
After four years, a child will enjoy trying new things and talking about things that interest them. They will have an understanding of basic grammatical structure, begin counting and have a basic understanding of time. Most four-year-olds prefer to play with others rather than by themselves. At this age, a child can also pour, mash and cut (with supervision) their own food to feed themselves more independently.
At age five, children sing, dance and play act frequently. They can speak clearly in full sentences and print numbers and letters. Children are more independent at this age, going to the bathroom by themselves and identifying the difference between what’s real and imaginary.
How Teachers Apply Early Childhood Development Milestones
When you earn your early childhood education degree, you will learn how these milestones of child development impact the lessons and activities you will conduct with the children in your care, as well as how your students relate to each other.
Early childhood education teachers help children develop emotional vocabulary by reading and describing the behaviors of themselves and characters in books and stories. They can narrate what is happening in the classroom and use expressive emotional vocabulary to help children explain how they are feeling and what they want and need.
Teachers of young children can also develop numerous physical challenges for children who are still learning coordination and strengthening their motor skills. They can include plenty of play activities and time to run and build motor skills. In addition, to encourage proper physical and mental development for children, early childhood education teachers should promote the importance of sleep and nutrition. There may be nap times and healthy snack times built into the school day or learning time.
If working with young children is your career goal, join us at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and earn your Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education degree. You will learn all about the developmental milestones young children reach in order to continue to grow and develop into happy, healthy and successful individuals.