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By Birth: Skills Your Child Should Be Learning When They Are Born

Newborns are hope and joy personified. As consumers of information—always watching, listening, touching, tasting, and smelling—they are bundles of potential and need. It’s important that babies are nurtured and encouraged to learn and grow from the moment they’re born. In fact, 75% of a child’s brain will develop by age three. As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn and Grow?

  • Interact with your baby. Even though your baby cannot talk yet, they are learning language when you interact with them.

  • Respond to your baby’s needs quickly. It helps them understand that they can trust the world around them, and—we promise—you can’t spoil a baby.

  • Talk with your baby about everything you are doing. When you are at the grocery store, folding laundry, picking them up and moving them, the more you talk with them, the more they will be learning.

  • Read books to them. Point out pictures, and make up stories about them. When they are older, let them flip the pages.

  • Lovingly touch your baby often.

  • Hold your baby.

  • Provide consistent routines for your baby. Bedtime, bath time, and feeding time are great opportunities to begin routines.

  • Visit your baby’s physician regularly.

  • Limit exposure to “screen time.” Babies need to interact with real people, not TVs or tablets.

  • Provide a safe sleep environment for your baby in their own crib or Pack 'n Play. The space should be free from blankets, bumper pads, and stuffed animals. Put your child to sleep on their back.

  • Request a Developmental Screening from your physician when your baby is 9 months old.

  • Limit background noises when interacting with your baby. Radio or TV can interrupt your baby's ability to focus on you.

  • Provide lots of opportunities for safe exploration on the ground. Babies need time to build their muscles.

  • Watch your baby for cues for when they are stressed, hungry, or upset. Respond to these needs.

  • Limit stress in the environment as much as possible. A baby's developing brain can be impacted by stress in their environment.

  • Take your baby outside for walks.

  • If child care is needed, use your local child care resource and referral office to learn about high-quality options in your area.

  • Encourage play with your child. Children learn best through play!

By 1: Skills Your Child Should Have by Age One

By the time babies turn one, they are curious, observant, energetic, determined, focused, and sometimes stubborn. At this age, they love to explore and are eager to engage with the world.

So much growth has happened in the last year, and so much more is going to happen this year as well. Your baby watches and learns from everything you do, so be a good role model and talk to your child all the time. Create safe environments for your baby to begin to explore the world around them.

What Can You Expect from Your Child?

  • Eating more. Be sure that you offer your one-year-old lots of nutritious options to eat, and have them join you at the dinner table.

  • Desiring to walk or crawl to new places of interest. Keep your toddler out of harm’s way, especially around windows and stairs.

  • Language skills are just beginning to emerge. Watch for cues for what your toddler may want or need. Pointing, reaching, putting arms up, pulling on your pant leg, or crying are ways your toddler is communicating to you. Be sure to use words when responding to those needs and wants.

  • Beginning to understand “pretend” play, but for them it is real. They love to begin acting out what they see adults around them doing, such as cooking, cleaning, and eating.

  • Learning by playing. Provide lots of opportunities for your toddler to play, as this is one of the most prominent ways young children learn.

  • Beginning to show frustration. A lot of this has to do with lack of ability to communicate and their independence emerging. When a toddler gets frustrated, stay calm and redirect them or remove them from a situation to get them to focus on something else.

  • Beginning to speak. Most children talking at age one can say three words, such as "mama," "dada," or "ball." Always expand on what the child says, placing their one word into a two or three-word sentence, such as:

    • Oh, you want the red ball?

    • Are you telling dada "bye bye"?

  • Toddlers do really well when there are routines established. They can begin to understand what comes next. Make sure certain times of your day have routines, such as eating, getting ready in the morning, dropping off at child care, bath time, and bedtime.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn and Grow?

  • Read to your toddler. Many times, parents think that because a toddler quickly turns the pages of a book, or even drops it, they are not interested in reading. Keep reading and pointing out pictures; your toddler is learning so much during these interactions.

  • Toddlers' physical abilities grow significantly during the year they are one. Give them safe opportunities to practice those skills by walking, running, and climbing.

  • In order for toddlers to learn, they have to practice a skill many times. Give them a chance to practice. By 18 months, your toddler should be able to begin drinking small amounts of fluids from a cup (without a lid), with only a small amount of spilling. Many parents don’t like the mess of a cup without a lid but a toddler needs to practice drinking from a cup without a lid to learn how to do it. Give them a cup when they are seated in a high chair or at a table.

  • Keep background noise to a minimum. Turn your TV at home and music in the car down or off so you can talk with your child about what is going on around them. The background noises make it hard for your child to focus on your words.

  • Continue to keep regularly scheduled doctor appointments.

  • Ask for your child to have Developmental Screening done by the doctor, as well as a Lead Screening.

  • You are the most important person in your child’s life. Be sure to take care of yourself to be the best parent you can be. Children can be affected by stress in their environments from a very young age. Try to create a low-stress environment for the family.

By 2: Skills Your Child Should Have by Age Two

Life at age two can be a bit complex and overwhelming at times. As these young toddlers are trying to understand the world, their drive and curiosity sometimes looks like trouble. But curious two-year-olds should not be underestimated.

What Can You Expect from Your Child?

  • Showing more independence

  • Showing more defiant behavior (doing what he/she was told not to do)

  • Pointing to objects or pictures when named

  • Following simple instructions, such as "Drink your milk."

  • Building towers that consist of four or more blocks

  • Beginning to sort objects by their shapes and colors

  • Walking on tiptoes

  • Walking up and down stairs, using a railing for assistance

  • Beginning to run

  • Kicking a ball

  • Catching a ball to their chest

  • Carrying a toy or handful of toys while walking

  • Starting to use one hand more than the other

  • Using sentences with 2-4 words

  • Using words to express feelings

  • Imitating behavior of others, especially older children

  • Looking at books by themselves

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn and Grow?

  • Build your child's vocabulary using pictures, picture books, storytelling, dramatic play, etc.

  • Allow for outdoor play opportunities that involve running, climbing, and jumping.

  • Provide your child with time to play with friends through arranged play dates, preschool, or childcare

  • Limit your child's screen time exposure

  • Encourage imaginative play/dramatic play. For example, encourage your child to walk like a cat, or create a place where they can create their own play.

  • Allow your child to ask questions, and provide answers that don’t leave them wondering. Be direct when answering their question so that they are not questioning the truth behind it later on.

By 3: Skills Your Child Should Have by Age Three

Three-year-olds are not built to sit still, keep their hands to themselves, take turns, be patient, stand in line, or keep quiet. They need motion, novelty, and adventure.

What Can You Expect from Your Child?

  • Copying actions of adults and friends

  • Showing feelings of affection and/or concern for a friend who is upset, without prompting

  • Undressing/dressing oneself

  • Naming most familiar things

  • Calling a friend by name

  • Saying their own first name, age, and gender

  • Showing interest in going to new places and trying new things

  • Putting together puzzles with 3-4 pieces

  • Copying a circle using a pencil or crayon

  • Playing with toys that have small moving parts or buttons

  • Playing make-believe with dolls, animals, and people

  • Naming the eight colors from a crayon box (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and brown)

  • Climbing well

  • Running easily

  • Pedaling a tricycle

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn and Grow?

  • Encourage your child to take turns with toys and other objects.

  • Provide your child with new words to expand their vocabulary.

  • Avoid baby-talk. Speak to them as you would an adult.

  • Let your child know that you are proud of their newfound independence and imagination.

  • Give your child choices (2-3) in order to make decisions.

  • Allow your child to help with chores.

  • Help your child understand and validate their feelings by asking questions, such as:

    • What are you feeling?

    • Why are you feeling this way?

    • Is there anything I can do to help or to make you feel better?

By 4: Skills Your Child Should Have by Age Four

By the time a child turns four, they are smooth-talking, agile, and observant seekers of adventure. They are kind of know-it-alls—as in they want to know it all. They have more questions than you have answers, and they should be challenged.

What Can You Expect from Your Child? 

  • Pretending to play "mom" and "dad"

  • Cooperating with other children

  • Talking about their likes and interests

  • Telling and retelling stories that are familiar to them

  • Saying their first and last name

  • Singing a song or reciting a poem from memory, such as “The Wheels on the Bus”

  • Drawing a person with 2-4 body parts (head, body, arms or legs)

  • Using scissors. Your child may not use them correctly, but they understand that the scissors need to open and close in order to cut something.

  • Understanding the idea of counting and can count to 10

  • Hopping or standing on one foot for up to two seconds

  • Catching a bounced ball most of the time

  • Pouring, cutting (with supervision), and mashing their own food

  • Caring for their own toileting (going to the restroom, wiping, and washing hands)

What Can You Do to Help Your Child Learn and Grow?

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings, but be firm in the rules you set.

  • Reinforce positive actions and interactions, such as playing nicely with a friend.

  • Encourage new words and pronunciations through play.

  • Practice numbers and letters, such as teaching them a poem to recite.

  • Encourage play with other children.

  • Avoid labeling your child, such as shy or aggressive, especially in front of them. You do not want them to feel as though their actions are wrong and make them a bad person.

  • Allow your child to learn self-help skills, such as serving their own food and drinks and feeding themselves.

  • Model appropriate behaviors through pretend play.

By 5: Skills Your Child Should Have by Age Five

Five-year-olds are confident doers of exciting things. They’re not built for desk-sitting, as their busy brain craves action and novelty. While they should be ready for Kindergarten, they still need to play, move, and explore. Their childhood shouldn’t be rushed.

Make sure your child is Kindergarten-ready with this list of essential skills:

  • Copies or writes own name

  • Identifies rhyming words

  • Identifies beginning sounds in words

  • Identifies at least 13 letters of the alphabet

  • Completes basic responsibilities related to daily needs

  • Follows basic health and safety rules

  • Accepts guidance and directions from familiar adults

  • Follows daily routines and classroom rules

  • Follows directions and responds to limits set by teacher

  • Controls feelings of frustration, distress, and anxiety when challenged

  • Resolves conflicts in socially acceptable ways

  • Watches & listens to stories to completion

  • Stays on task during adult-directed activities

  • Sees a simple task to completion

  • Gives name, age, and gender upon request

  • Identifies 5 colors

  • Counts 5 objects, using one-to-one correspondence

  • Asks for help

  • Communicates needs and wants

  • Understands and follows directions

  • Listens to gather information

  • Uses speech that is understandable

  • Recognizes own name in isolated print