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Your child’s development: What to expect

  • All children are different and develop skills at different times. 
  • It is normal for a child to be behind in some areas and ahead in others.
  • If you’re worried your child is not reaching some milestones, mention it to your doctor.

Watching your child grow and develop is one of the most exciting parts of being a parent, especially in the early months when it seems every day brings a new skill.

Knowing what to expect from your child will help you in many ways. If you’re worried she is not reaching some milestones, you can mention it to your doctor. As well, if you know what skills to expect at a specific age, you can be sure to take steps to keep your child safe (for example, keeping dangerous objects well out of reach before your baby starts crawling).

Children’s develop skills several different areas:

  • Gross motor: These are movements using the body’s large muscles and include sitting, standing, walking, running, keeping balance, and changing positions.
  • Fine motor skills use the small muscles in the hands and fingers. Fine motorskills include —using hands to eat, draw, dress, play, and write—develop over time. They also also involve hand-eye coordination.
  • Language: Speaking, using body language and gestures, and understanding what others say.
  • Cognitive: These are thinking skills—learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering.
  • Social: Connecting and having relationships with others, cooperating, and responding to the feelings of others.

The table below is a general guide for development from birth to age 4. Remember, all children are different and develop skills at different times. It is normal for a child to be behind in some areas and ahead in others.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, or if he seems to be behind in more than one of the areas listed below, speak with your doctor.

Age Gross motor Fine motor Social/Language Cognitive
At the end of 3 months, most infants can…
  • roll from front to back
  • control head and neck movement when sitting
  • raise their head and chest when lying on their stomach
  • stretch out and kick their legs when lying on their stomach or back
  • push down with their legs when feet are on a firm surface
  • bring their hands together
  • open and shut their hands
  • bring their hands to their mouth
  • take swipes at a hanging object
  • smile when you smile and on their own
  • be expressive and communicate with their face and body
  • copy some body movements and facial expressions
  • watch faces closely
  • follow moving objects
  • recognize objects and people they know
At the end of 8 months, most babies can…
  • roll both ways (front to back, back to front)
  • sit on their own
  • support their whole weight on their legs
  • control their upper body and arms
  • hold and shake a hand toy
  • move an object from hand to hand
  • use their hands to explore an object
  • reach for a person they know
  • smile at themselves in a mirror
  • respond when other people express emotion
  • copy speech sounds
  • track a moving object, and find one that is partially hidden
  • explore with hands and mouth
  • struggle to get objects that are out of reach
  • look from one object to another watch a falling object
At 12 to 14 months, most babies can…
  • reach a sitting position without help
  • crawl on hands and knees, or scoot around on their bum
  • get from a sitting to a crawling or prone (on their stomach) position
  • pull up to a standing position
  • cruise, holding onto furniture
  • stand briefly without support
  • walk holding an adult’s hand, and maybe take 2 or 3 steps on their own
  • start to climb stairs with help
  • finger-feed using thumb and fore-finger
  • put objects into a container (and take them out again)
  • release objects voluntarily
  • poke with an index finger
  • push a toy
  • begin to drink from a cup
  • scribble with a crayon
  • begin to use a spoon
  • be shy or anxious with strangers
  • copy during play
  • have favourite toys and people
  • test limits to actions and behaviours
  • put out an arm or leg to help when being dressed
  • take off socks
  • come when called (respond to name)
  • say “mama” or “dada” with at least one other word with meaning
  • communicate a need without crying
  • stop an action if you say “no”
  • explore objects in different ways (shaking, banging, throwing, dropping)
  • know the names of familiar objects
  • respond to music
  • begin to explore cause and effect
At 18 months, most babies can…
  • climb into chairs
  • walk without help
  • climb stairs one at a time with help
  • build a 3-block tower
  • use a spoon well
  • turn a few board-book pages at a time
  • turn over a container to pour out the contents
  • drink easily from a cup
  • say 20 or more words
  • follow a simple instruction
  • remove some clothing on their own
  • point to a named body part
  • point to familiar objects when asked
  • help with simple tasks
  • use objects as tools
  • fit related objects together (e.g., in a shape sorter)
At 24 months, most toddlers can…
  • pull a toy while walking
  • carry a large toy or more than one toy while walking
  • begin to run
  • kick or throw a ball
  • climb into and get down from chairs without help
  • walk up and down stairs with help
  • build a tower of 4 blocks or more
  • complete a simple shape-matching puzzle
  • turn board-book pages easily, one at a time
  • start to put 2 words together
  • copy the behaviour of adults and other children
  • get excited about being with other children
  • play alongside other children
  • show increasing independence
  • show defiant behaviour
  • begin “make-believe” play
At 3 years, most toddlers can…
  • walk up and down stairs, alternating feet (one foot per stair)
  • run easily
  • jump in place
  • throw a ball overhead
  • make up-and-down, side-to-side and circular lines with a pencil or crayon
  • build a tower of more than 6 blocks
  • hold a pencil in a writing position
  • screw and unscrew jar lids or big nuts and bolts
  • string big beads
  • work latches and hooks
  • snip with children’s scissors
  • show spontaneous affection for playmates they know
  • begin to take turns
  • understand the concept of “mine” vs. “someone else’s”
  • object to changes in routine
  • anticipate daily activities
  • speak in sentences and ask a lot of questions
  • put toys away
  • ask for help
  • know their full name
  • match an object in their hand or the room to a picture in a book
  • include animals, dolls and people in make-believe play
  • sort easily by shape and colour
  • complete a puzzle with 3 or 4 pieces
  • understand the difference between 1 and 2
  • name body parts and colours
At 4 years, most preschoolers can…
  • hop and stand on 1 foot for up to 4 seconds
  • kick a ball forward
  • catch a bounced ball
  • draw a person with 2 to 4 body parts use children’s scissors
  • draw circles and squares
  • twiddle thumbs
  • do a finger-to-thumb sequence (e.g., Itsy-Bitsy Spider)
  • look forward to new experiences
  • cooperate with other children
  • play “Mom” or “Dad”
  • be very inventive
  • dress and undress
  • imagine monsters
  • negotiate solutions to conflicts
  • understand counting
  • follow a 3-part instruction
  • recall parts of a story
  • make up and tell simple stories
  • understand “same” and “different”
  • enjoy rich fantasy play
  • know their address

Source: Well Beings: A Guide to Health in Child Care, 3rd edition

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last Updated: February 2014