When it comes to education, most people associate teaching with primary school age children. However, education begins from birth – and is arguably even more important in very early childhood. As an early childhood educator, your job is to build the foundation from which a child can gain more traditional education. In infancy and as a toddler, it’s the job of an early childhood educator to ensure children have the essential groundwork in place to help them excel.
But how do you know what that groundwork is?
Thankfully, there is a system in place called Developmental Milestones. These milestones are the key stages an infant should meet by certain ages.
Each child will vary in its ability to learn, of course, and some may meet milestones faster than others. However, by understanding milestones you can become a better educator or care-giver. Even if you’re not pursuing the career directly and will seek an assistant and or school based role, knowing these early stages helps you to understand what working with young children involves.
How do developmental milestones work?
The developmental milestones are linked to the National Quality Standards and Early Years Learning Framework in Australia. They are an extensive list of attributes and behaviours that need to be observed in each age bracket in order to consider that a child has met the milestone. Each stage consists of five elements:
- Physical: How a child is developing physically – movements, actions etc.
- Emotional: How a child is perceiving and communicating emotion – crying, excitement.
- Social: How a child is communicating – smiling, laughter, making eye contact.
- Cognitive: How a child is learning and interacting with the world – enjoying games such as peek-a-boo, exploring objects, food preferences etc.
- Language: How a child verbally and visually communicates – Babbling, first words, waving etc.
What are the key developmental milestones to follow?
Developmental milestones as outlined by Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority are extensive. We’ve summarised the key learnings, behaviours and concerns at each age group below.
Birth to 4 months: At this early stage, children should begin to move their bodies and react to stimuli such as sunlight or nearby toys. Children should cry when hungry and show excitement when they see food being prepared. A child should be expressing its needs with gurgles, coos and cries.
4-8 months: A child will begin playing with feet and toes, making efforts to sit or roll. They begin to take weight on their feet and can start to recognise people and familiarity. They will explore objects with their hands and begin to coordinate looking, touching and hearing. Babies will begin to repeat sounds and can respond to their own name.
8-12 months: At this stage, children begin to hold their own bottles or biscuits, can start to crawl and are generally more physically able. Emotionally they begin to seek to be near their parent or caregiver, explore and play and begin to respond to own names, family names and familiar sounds. They can clap their hands and imitate actions.
1 to 2 years: As the age categories broaden, more is expected of the child. In this group, children begin to walk, climb and run. They can drink from cups, try to use their own utensils and more. They will cooperate in play and become more curious. Emotionally they will start seeking comfort, taking cue from parents or caregivers and even sympathising with others in distress. Children at this age can point to body parts and objects, can comprehend simple questions and commands and begin to use one- or two-word sentences.
2 to 3 years: By this age, a child can walk run and jump. They can stop readily, open light doors, use a pencil and self-feed. They will play with other children, demand adult attention and begin to interact more inquisitively with objects. They will begin to count with numbers, use two or three words together such as “go potty now” and will ask a lot of questions.
3 to 5 years: By now, children are building a strong sense of physical wellbeing and can exhibit hand preference, dress and undress with minimal assistance, feed selves and more. They are more social, can build friendship bonds and comprehend hurt and comfort. They can perceive things with a longer attention span, engage in dramatic play and recall events. Their language develops and they begin to speak in sentences, can assert themselves with words and more.
If you’d like to see the full guidelines, head to this handy PDF.
What if children don’t meet the milestones?
Within each age category, there are key moments in which you may want to seek advice. To do so, talk with colleagues or your service director. If concerns are serious, you will have to approach the child’s family to encourage them to arrange a development check with a family health nurse.
As an Early Childhood Educator, you’ll learn about milestones and development. To understand them, and know when it’s right to raise concerns, is a vital element of your role. If you’d like to work in a rewarding role that’s fundamental to a child’s development, get started with a CHC30113 Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care today.