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Ten Characteristics of Early Childhood Development

by Stacey Chaloux, studioD

The first few years of life are a time of significant growth and development. Children all develop at different rates, but most young children will reach certain milestones by specific ages. Watch for your child meeting general guidelines as he grows from infancy through his toddler and preschool years.


Babies are born ready to learn language, and from the beginning your infant will be listening to the sounds he hears around him. By age 1, he will respond to his name, look where you point, and say a few of his own words. As a toddler he will begin to follow simple directions. According to HealthyChildren.org, once he is 2 years old, he will be able to say more than 50 words and begin to combine some of those words into simple sentences. His language will continue to grow rapidly through his preschool years and he will become more understandable.

Walking and Running

As an infant, your baby will learn to roll over, sit up, crawl and pull to a standing position. It's all leading to his first steps, which will occur around his first birthday. Once he begins walking on his own, he will quickly learn to run and climb by the time he is 2. As a preschooler, he will be able to jump, hop and walk up and down stairs independently.


As a toddler, your little one will begin to understand simple concepts as he is better able to recognize similarities and differences. He will begin to sort objects by color or shape. He will understand position words such as over, under, around and beside. When he is 3 years old, he will be able to name the colors and have an understanding of the concept of counting, according to HealthyChildren.org.

Pretend Play

Very young toddlers begin to imitate adult actions by stirring a spoon in a play pot or holding a toy phone to their ears, which is the first step of pretend play. By the time your kiddo is 2, he will engage in more make-believe play with your guidance. As a preschooler, he will invent fantasy scenarios with more detailed story lines while he plays.

Fine Motor Skills

The small muscles of the hand develop during the early years, which is called fine motor development. Babies use their fingers and hands as they pick up small pieces of food or dump out containers. Toddlers will build towers of blocks and use crayons to scribble. By the time your child is a preschooler, he will be able to copy lines and simple shapes, and will begin to use scissors to snip.


Young children are on a path to being independent from an early age. Toddlers learn to assert their independence quickly and you will surely hear the words, "I do it myself" at some point. As he grows into a preschooler, HealthyChildren.org states that he will enjoy being more independent and be proud of his accomplishments.


Because of their newfound independence, toddlers and some preschoolers are often fond of the word "No." When they do not get their way, it can sometimes lead to a temper tantrum, which is a normal part of early childhood development, according to KidsHealth. Young children are learning to manage their feelings and their frustrations can sometimes seem like too much to handle, resulting in those strong feelings boiling over into tantrum.

Separation Anxiety

Once babies develop an understanding of object permanence -- knowing that something still exists even though you can't see it -- they might start to show signs of separation anxiety when you leave the room. This develops from 4 to 7 months of age, according to KidsHealth.org. When your child realizes he can't see you, he understands that you have left him, and because he doesn't understand the concept of time, he doesn't know when you'll come back. Some children continue to have separation anxiety through the preschool years, but with calm and consistent goodbyes, children learn that you will always come back.


Many children begin to show signs of readiness for potty-training between 18 and 24 months, according to KidsHealth. These signs usually include following instructions, keeping a diaper dry for two or more hours, and expressing a need to use the toilet. Though they might show some signs of readiness, many children do not become fully potty-trained until months later, and even longer to remain dry at night.


Curiosity is the driving force behind most learning that young children do. As an infant, your little one will crawl to the objects in his environment that interests him -- even if those are the objects you don't want him to touch. Toddlers explore the concepts of cause and effect by watching what happens when they push, pull, bang or shake objects. When you have a preschooler, you will often hear the word "Why?" which demonstrates his natural curiosity and desire to learn more.

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

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