The early years of a child’s life are ripe with learning and personal development. Those years help shape a child into who they will become, both at home, in their relationships and the classroom.
There are certain developmental milestones teachers and parents expect children to reach. According to Mandy Capel, lower school director at University School in Shaker Heights, and Mary Beth Hilborn, early childhood director at Hawken School in Lyndhurst, the milestones and when they are reached vary.
“They are too many to mention, but you should be looking in the five domains of development for your child’s development,” Hilborn said. “Children all develop on different timelines. They don’t all walk when they’re 12 months. When a child is not walking by that time, it’s not abnormal. Everyone is on their timeline, but there are times where one might be a bit more concerned.”
Hilborn explained the five domains are social-emotional, like being able to express their feelings; learning approach, like whether they’re eager to learn or not; language and literacy, which includes listening, speaking, reading and writing; and large and fine motor skills.
Capel said other developmental milestones include how they cooperate with other children, expressing creativity, the ability to tell stories and expressing interest in the things around them.
“When you see your child taking an interest in the things around them, and they’re not necessarily at the point of looking at things in the world, but asking questions, that is important,” she said.
Both professionals said parents should be aware of their child’s developmental journey and should place importance on reaching these milestones.
“Parents do need to be aware,” Hilborn said. “Children follow relatively predictable patterns of development, like a child won’t run before they can roll over. But, not every child follows the same pattern or pace. Not everyone has to do something by a certain age, and even a child can be at one place in their language and literacy, but cognitively, somewhere else.”
Hilborn added parents should also consider there are “great spurts and long periods of consolidating and periods of regression.”
“If a child is sick or there has been something that happened in their family life, regression can happen,” she said. “As a parent, you need to be aware of the typical pattern of development, but one thing every child has is their own developmental continuum.”
Capel said making sure children hit developmental milestones is a big part of early childhood education.
“Early childhood education is really important so it’s important to get a child into educational environments in the preschool years,” she noted. “It’s critical. We help students catch up where they may have a gap. But in terms of meeting those milestones, the edge is enrolling in an early childhood program.”
At University School, Capel said children are exposed to an “inviting and calming space where students can feel bonded with their teachers and peers.”
“To help them get to those milestones, that in itself is important,” she explained. “It is critical because we know learning only takes place when trust has been developed. So, relationships are critical to allowing students feel safe and valued at school.”
For children at Hawken School, enrolling in the early childhood program starts them at a baseline, and teachers record their growth from two years old.
“We watch them carefully and mark them where they are developing,” Hilborn said. “We do offer programs that invite development in all areas of that continuum. That is important to us. And, we don’t have a set curriculum that everyone has at the same time. Everyone is entering in at their own ability level. It’s about having a well-rounded program with the opportunity to explore.”
If parents are still worried about their child hitting milestones, there are a few things they can do at home.
“It’s important for parents to work on these milestones at home in the same way they are addressed at school,” Capel explained. “Repetition helps them learn. It’s also important to give your child choices. Choice making is important for toddlers and preschoolers. Allowing input helps them improve in those stages of development as well.”