Daycare Milestones Parents Should Know

It’s normal to worry about your child’s development, especially during the early years when so much is happening for the first time. While each child grows at their own pace, there are markers pediatricians suggest children should reach by a certain age. Dr. Ruth Letizia, a pediatrician with Banner Health Center in Mesa, AZ, stated, “Eighty-five to ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by age five….As parents, it is important to make sure our children are in places that nurture and encourage this important development: either at home or in high-quality daycare.” 

Outside of the home, childcare providers can keep parents up to date on milestones so that families can feel reassured when their child reaches major developmental points ahead of schedule or falls behind a bit. Recognizing these child milestones can help parents feel at ease and/or intervene early. Here’s more information on some of the most important benchmarks to watch for from infancy to five years old and how daycares encourage development.

What Are Developmental Milestones?

Developmental milestones are a set of age-specific tasks, behaviors, and skills observed in infants and children as they develop. These milestones enable physicians, parents, and other caregivers to understand how children are progressing physically, mentally, and emotionally. For instance, this can include learning how to point at objects, smiling, babbling, walking, or learning new words. These markers can also show if a child is not developing appropriately compared to their peers, which can indicate a developmental delay and a need for specialized support.

How Do Doctors Assess Children’s Development?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommends that all children receive a developmental milestone screening during normal well-child visits using a formal, scientifically tested screening tool at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months, or whenever there is concern. Moreover, the APA recommends screening for autism spectrum disorder at 18 and 24 months. During these visits, physicians spend time observing children to identify any health, behavioral, or developmental problems, as well as conducting a physical exam, giving immunizations, and conducting tests for hearing, vision, and other functions. 
However, it’s important to keep in mind that developmental progress is not set in stone, and milestones are meant to provide guidance with further assessment from specialists. Moreover, behaviors and social cues may vary across cultures. If you feel concerned about your child’s development, speak with your pediatrician or health care provider. You can also get in touch with your state’s early intervention program for a free developmental assessment without a referral. Early intervention is key so that your child can receive the treatment they may need.

What Are the Different Types of Developmental Milestones?

Child milestones are divided into four categories or “domains”:

Social & Emotional

This concerns your child’s ability to express emotions and interact with others to form healthy relationships. Examples include smiling and showing affection without prompting, cooperating and following directions, and imitating peers. 

Speech & Language 

This concerns your child’s ability to speak and understand what others are saying to them. Examples include cooing, babbling, speaking, and singing songs from memory.


This concerns your child’s ability to explore, learn new concepts, and solve problems. Examples include putting objects in their mouths, reaching for objects, building blocks, and learning how to count. 


This concerns how children physically develop and move their bodies. Examples include learning large and fine motor skills such as sitting up, crawling, and walking.

Developmental Milestones & Warning Signs By Age

Parents, caregivers, and childcare providers can use the following guide to assess a child’s development. 

6 Months 

Social & Emotional: Smiling, laughing when tickled, responds to emotions 

Speech & Language: Begins to say consonant sounds, imitating sounds  

Cognitive: Expresses curiosity about objects, places objects in mouth, passes objects between hands 

Physical: Can roll over, sit up when propped up, explores hands and feet

9 Months  

Social & Emotional: Understands “no”, smiles and laughs when happy 

Speech & Language: Can use vowel and consonant sounds to babble

Cognitive: Responds to name, increased ability to focus on objects, plays peek-a-boo 

Physical: Can roll over, sit up when propped up, explores hands and feet

1 Year  

Social & Emotional: Cries when parents leave, repeats sounds or action for attention, interested in peers 

Speech & Language: Waves and says simple words like “Mama” and “Dada” 

Cognitive: Pokes or points with index finger, bangs objects together, responds to simple verbal requests

Physical: Pulls up to stand, walks while holding onto items, can use pincer grasp

18 Months   

Social & Emotional: May cling to parents when placed in new situations, uses imaginary play, throws tantrums 

Speech & Language: Says at least 6 words or more, says and shakes head to say “no”, points to show things to others

Cognitive: Points to at least one body part, scribbles, follows one-step commands

Physical: Walks without support, holds and drinks from cup, spoons or feeds on their own

2 Years Old  

Social & Emotional: Plays beside other kids, shows more independence 

Speech & Language: Uses two-word phrases, repeats words, points to things in a book

Cognitive: Begins to sort shapes and colors and stack blocks, plays simple make-believe games

Physical: Begins to run, stands on tiptoes, throws and kicks a ball, draws straight lines and circles 

3 Years Old  

Social & Emotional: Plays with other kids, shows concern for crying friends 

Speech & Language: Speaks using 2-3 sentences; says first name, age, and sex; answers simple questions

Cognitive: Stacks blocks and builds towers, plays pretend or make-believe, turns door handles

Physical: Climbs and walks downstairs, runs easily, pedals tricycle, can work simple toys like pegboards 

4 Years Old  

Social & Emotional: Discusses interests, plays more vivid make-believe  

Speech & Language: Speaks in sentences with 5-6 words and tells stories 

Cognitive: Identifies colors and some numbers, can understand the concept of same and different, can retell a part of a story

Physical: Hops and stands on one foot for up to five seconds, catches a bounced ball, uses scissors 

5 Years Old  

Social & Emotional: Wants to be like friends and can distinguish between real and make-believe   

Speech & Language: Speaks clearly in full sentences, uses future tense, says name and address 

Cognitive: Counts to 10 or higher, can print some letters or numbers 
Physical: Hops and stands on one foot for ten seconds or longer, may be able to skip, swings and climbs

How Daycare Helps Child Development

Children may benefit long-term emotionally, academically, and physically from attending high-quality early education programs. Keep reading to see how daycare centers nurture children’s development. 

Enhances Social Skills

Daycare centers are a great place to encourage early social skills development. By spending time with other kids and engaging with competent instructors, children may learn the fundamentals of good communication. Daycare provides chances to understand differences in background and ability, as well as cooperation and conflict resolution. As a result, they will be more secure and at ease in social situations.

Establishes Patterns 

Clear and predictable routines give children a sense of security. Daycare offers structured activities in a positive, safe environment, allowing children to learn patterns, improve language development, and build the confidence they need to learn and play. Structured activities such as designating times for eating, playing, and napping also help shape a child’s understanding of social cues and learn positive behaviors.

Encourages Imaginative Play 

Early childcare instructors give age-appropriate engaging toys and materials to encourage young children to progress toward higher-level critical thinking and creativity. Storytime, role-playing, crafts, organized games, and other activities help youngsters develop their imaginations and arrive at different solutions.

Promotes School Readiness

Children who attend early learning programs typically have a smoother transition to kindergarten. Teachers utilize organized activities to introduce new ideas in a fun way while also instilling a routine timetable. The shift is not only easier but many of the skills required for school success are acquired as well. This can include language and literacy, movement, music, cooperating with peers, and more. 

If you’re searching for a high-quality daycare center near Philadelphia, turn to Ducklings Early Learning Center. Children can look forward to fun, themed enrichment activities, outdoor play, and socialization with their peers. Parents can rest assured children are engaged in an age-appropriate child care curriculum in a safe, compassionate environment. For more information on specific daycare center locations, visit our website today.