Birth to five: Milestones to watch for

Your child is growing fast! This easy reference will help you to keep up with — and anticipate — all the big changes ahead.

It’s amazing how much your little one will grow in such a short amount of time. From sitting to walking, peek-a-boo to non-stop talk, the list of developmental signposts along the way is awe-inspiring. To put it in order, from birth to five years of age, we’ve enlisted the help of Dr. Larry Pancer, a spokesperson for the Canadian Paediatic Society (CPS), a paediatrician and father in Markham, Ont.

While there are many important markers to watch for as your tots grow, it’s important not to get too hung up on keeping strict score by a calendar. “Development is a progression, not a race — there’s no gold medal for taking your first steps,” Pancer says. With that in mind, use this tool as a quick, one-stop reference for tracking those big changes — and don’t forget to cherish and celebrate each one as it passes.

Birth to first birthday

Milestone 1: Holds her head up
When Three to four months
Signs she’s getting close As she grows and muscles gain strength, she should begin to lose the “head lag” that occurs when you pull her up from lying on her back to a seated position. “She should begin to brace her neck in anticipation of this forward movement, instead of letting her head flop back,” Pancer says. Help her to develop neck strength and head control by regularly placing her on her tummy for playtime.

Milestone 2: Sits up alone
When Six to eight months
Signs she’s getting close Before she sits, she’ll master rolling from front to back and back to front, Pancer says. Prop pillows behind her legs and back to encourage her to support herself as she practises sitting. “She may experiment with the “tripod” — sitting with hands either between her legs or outside of them for support,” he says.

Milestone 3: Cuts her first tooth/teeth
When Around six months
Signs she’s getting close The signs of teething will be pretty obvious (copious amounts of drool, occasional crankiness and a propensity to stick anything and everything in her mouth). The first tooth is typically a lower incisior, says Pancer, and this is followed by another new arrival every month on average, until she finishes out her first year with about five to nine teeth. All children see their teeth come in at different times, but it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor if your child is coming up on 18 months with no teeth at all.

Milestone 4: Eats solid foods
When Can be introduced as early as four months but generally no later than six months
Signs she’s getting close Good chance she’s ready for solid foods once she eases up on the extrusion reflex, says Pancer. “This is the instinct to push strange objects — food, utensils — out of the mouth with the tongue,” he says. Another cue that she’s ready: she’s suddenly very interested in what’s on your plate.

Milestone 5: Crawls
When Eight to 10 months
Signs she’s getting close As she gets stronger and more courageous, she’ll push herself up on all fours, rock back and forth and hold her head up as she eyes her destination. It’s common for babies to crawl backwards before they learn to go forward, Pancer says. Others will crawl “commando style,” seemingly swimming across the floor without fully pushing up, or simply scoot along on their bums in a seated position. Some tots will skip crawling altogether, progressing from sitting to walking before you have the chance to say, “babyproof.”

Milestone 6: Becomes a social, speaking creature
When Around six months
Signs she’s getting close She’s able to recognize and reach for familiar people, she interacts with claps and waves, smiles at her mirror reflection and plays peek-a-boo games. By the end of the year, says Pancer, she should be able to say two to three words, and may test her vocal abilities with nonsensical baby babble.

Age one to two

Milestone 1: Walks
When As early as nine months and usually as late as 18 months
Signs he’s getting close He’s pulling himself up to stand, cruising along using furniture and walls for balance and striking out for a few first steps on his own. “This is one of those milestones where the expectations are often very different from reality,” Pancer says. “All parents want to brag that their kids walked early, but be patient and grateful if it happens later down the line. Once they start walking, you’ll be running to keep up.”

Milestone 2: Uses utensils
When Around 15 months
Signs he’s getting close Let him experiment with soft plastic spoons before 15 months to encourage understanding of the scoop and deliver concept and to help develop the fine pincer grip and finger strength he’ll need to keep a hold of utensils. “Put a garbage bag under his chair and hope for the best,” Pancer says. Also, keep in mind that babies should exhibit no hand preference before one year of age — until this time they are all ambidextrous. “Before 12 months old, if they do show a side preference, it may not be that they have actually chosen a hand but may in fact be due to some inherent weakness on the opposite side, which is best examined by your doctor.”

Milestone 3: Transitions from two naps to one
When Around 18 months
Signs he’s getting close Don’t be too quick to mourn the loss of one of the two crucial daytime naps, Pancer says. “From 18 months to two years old, babies may waffle between one and two naps a day — if they’re on a long car ride or have had a particularly eventful day, they may need a second one and that’s alright,” he says.

Milestone 4: Begins imitative play
When 18 months to two years old
Signs he’s getting close He’s always observing and learning and he’s begun to mimmick the things he sees everyday (he may “cook” and serve “food” with his toys, for example). “Nurture his imagination by explaining what you’re doing as you do it, and offering safe tools for him to try for himself like a wooden spoon and empty pot,” Pancer says.

Milestone 5: Increases language and comprehension
When Around 18 months to two years old
Signs he’s getting close By this time, he should be able to identify by pointing at three or more body parts and follow a two-point command (for example: bring me your shoes or put the diaper in the pail), Pancer says. He should also be able to speak 10 or more words and understand what “no” means. To encourage his vocabulary and understanding, the CPS urges families and caregivers to start early (before two years of age) with exposure to books, music and songs.

Age two to three

Milestone 1: Visits the dentist
When Start at two years old
Signs she’s getting close A soft-bristled baby toothbrush should introduced when the first tooth erupts. Proper brushing will take years to achieve, but your child should be familiar with the idea. Around her second birthday, it’s a good time to introduce your child to the family dentist. “The Canadian Dental Association says to do it at one year, while family dentists typically start at three years, but I tell all my parents at their child’s two-year checkup to bring them along on their next visit to the dentist,” Pancer says.

Milestone 2: Starts toilet training
When Two years old and beyond
Signs she’s getting close She’s following you into the bathroom, curious about what it is you’re up to. She’s learned to tell you when she’s peeing or pooping and seems to have found a rhythm or schedule for it. Perhaps she’s even slipping away to have bowel movements in a more private place and she often seems uncomfortable in a dirty diaper. It’s time to start the process, but Pancer warns against rushing it or putting pressure on your child. “This process is extraordinarily variable. Don’t force it. This can take time and can go as late as four and a half to five years old,” he says.

Milestone 3: Speaks more clearly
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close As her vocabulary advances, she’s combining and linking words by two years old, and by three years, should be able to recite simple nursery rhymes and sing short songs. She should also understand the basics of grammar and be able to identify animals in a picture book and make the corresponding sounds, says Pancer.

Milestone 4: Moves from crib to bed
When Around two years old
Signs she’s getting close If you’ve dropped the crib mattress to its lowest point and she’s trying (successfully or unsuccessfully) to climb out and break loose, there’s a good chance she’s ready to move to a bed.

Milestone 5: Scribbles, grasps, feeds and stacks
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close As she hones her fine motor skills, your child will enjoy scribbling with chunky crayons, learn to control cutlery and in a more coordinated way, brush her teeth enthusiastically, assist in dressing and undressing, complete simple puzzles and stack a series of six or more blocks, Pancer says. By the end of the year, she should also be able to screw and unscrew jar lids or big nuts and bolts, string big beads, work latches and hooks and snip with children’s scissors, says the CPS.

Milestone 6: Walks up and down stairs
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close Instead of tackling a flight of stairs on her hands and knees, she boldly approaches without falling forward, taking one foot per stair, one stair at a time. (She’s still too young to be unsupervised, so be sure to stand with her or hold hands when practising going up and down.)

Age three to four

Milestone 1: Pedals like a pro
When Over the course of the year
Signs he’s getting close Provided his legs are long enough, your child should be able to get his little legs spinning on his own tricycle or big-wheeled bike. Learning this circular movement will improve strength, coordination and independence.

Milestone 2: Plays games
When Over the course of the year
Signs he’s getting close Encourage the development of your child’s comprehension skills by making games and music a part of your time together. “By this age, he should understand simple games like hide and seek, tag and memory card games,” Pancer says. “He should also be able to sing and mime along to action songs like ‘Wheels on the bus’ and ‘Head and shoulders.’”

Milestone 3: Forms friendships
When Over the course of the year
Signs he’s getting close It’s around this time that children transition from parallel play — busying themselves side by side with minimal interaction — to more creative interactive play, a sign he’s maturing as a friendly, social being. “He will begin to pretend and assume roles — teacher, Daddy, bus driver — during play and he’ll form friendships and express preferences for certain playmates,” Pancer says. Also expect him to show spontaneous affection for friends, anticipate daily activities and complain about changes to his routine, says the CPS.

Milestone 4: Learns letters, numbers and colours
When Over the course of the year
Signs he’s getting close In preparation for preschool, your child should learn to identify and recite his ABCs, 123s and a rainbow of colours. As always, encourage him with books, puzzles and songs, says Pancer.

Age four to five

Milestone 1: Rides a bike
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close Gross motor skills hop forward as your little one learns to jump and hold her balance on one foot for up to four seconds, kicks and catches a ball and learns to ride a bicycle with and then without training wheels.

Milestone 2: Plays by the rules
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close Her understanding of games becomes more sophisticated this year, says Pancer, as she begins to grasp simple sets of rules, moving pieces and rolling the dice on board games. “They also start to get a little competitive too,” Pancer says. “All children want to win.”

Milestone 3: Becomes a little artist
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close She’s crafting, cutting, colouring and expressing herself through art, says Pancer. According to the CPS, she should be able to draw a person with distinct body parts, along with simple circles and squares. Provide plenty of paper and crafting supplies and make room on the fridge.

Milestone 4: Knows 1,000-plus words
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close “Language skills are well established at this point — she’s using pronouns, has stopped dropping letters from words and is making complete sounds,” Pancer says. She should also learn to print and copy letters on paper. As her imagination and vocabulary grow, she’ll begin to engage in vivid fantasy play, recall parts of stories and start making up and telling her own. She’ll also be able to follow at three-part instruction and provide her address, says the CPS.

Milestone 5: Understands the concept of time
When Over the course of the year
Signs she’s getting close Little ones feel safe and comforted by routine, and learning how a clock works is part of this. She’s clever enough to anticipate regular events like dinnertime and bedtime, but is flexible enough to get excited about new activities and experiences.

Looking forward: Age five and beyond

By age five, your little one is boarding the bus and doing most of her developing at school. “At this age, the job of monitoring development moves out of the doctor’s office and into the classroom and playground,” Pancer says. “Teachers are the best ones to observe and chart a child’s physical, mental and social development from this point forward.”

Things to look for over the course of this year: baby teeth begin to loosen and fall as the first permanent ones emerge; coordination becomes more refined as she learns to jump rope and balance on one foot; say goodbye to Velcro as she masters shoelaces; her vocabulary explodes with 2,000-plus words; and her sense of responsibility kicks in as she learns to apologize.

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