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Ages and Stages of Development

Care About Quality was published by the California Department of Education in 2000.

Choosing quality care that is in a healthy and safe environment should be your number one priority. Look for child care that stimulates and encourages your child’s physical, intellectual, and social growth. Keep your child’s age and personality in mind when looking for the program that best meets his needs. Understanding what makes your child feel secure and knowing the activities he enjoys and will learn from will make a difference in your final child care decision.


Each child has his own personality and responds to caregivers or experiences differently. Just like adults, children may have outgoing, shy, or even-tempered natures. Your caregiver should be in tune with your child’s special personality and treat your child in a positive and caring manner that agrees with his special personality. This is crucial to nurturing his healthy emotional growth.  By understanding your child’s personality, you and your caregiver can help him succeed by offering care, activities, and discipline that best fit his needs.

Developmental stages

As your child grows, you may find yourself searching for clues to her behavior. As a parent, you may hear the words “developmental stages.” This is just another way of saying your child is moving through a certain time period in the growing-up process. At times, she may be fascinated with her hands, her feet, and her mouth. As she grows, she may get into everything. Lock your doors and cabinets, and take a deep breath during those exploration years! Then there will be an age when independence is all she wants. At every stage, what she needs is your love, understanding, and time.

Parent Tip

Recent brain research indicates that birth to age three are the most important years in a child’s development. Here are some tips to consider during your child’s early years:

  • Be warm, loving, and responsive.
  • Talk, read, and sing to your child.
  • Establish routines and rituals.
  • Encourage safe explorations and play.
  • Make TV watching selective.
  • Use discipline as an opportunity to teach.
  • Recognize that each child is unique.
  • Choose quality child care and stay involved.
  • Take care of yourself.
For more information, visit the First 5 California Parents' Site External link opens in new window or tab. .

Learning styles

Children learn in many different ways. Each child has his own way of learning—some learn visually, others through touch, taste, and sound. Watch a group of children and you’ll understand at once what this means. One child will sit and listen patiently, another cannot wait to move and count beads. Another wants you to show her the answer over and over. Children also learn in different ways depending on their developmental stage. One thing we know is all children love to learn new things by exploring and discovering. Children love to solve problems during play and in daily activities.

Look for a child care provider who understands children’s learning styles and includes reading, learning numbers, art activities, rhyming, and problem solving in your child’s daily activities. Also, find out how your provider encourages your child to understand and benefit from daily activities and experiences.

Tips for looking for a child care provider during the first eighteen months of life

Look for a provider who:

  • Is warm and friendly.
  • Interacts with your infant and has eye contact.
  • Talks to your infant while diapering.
  • Includes your infant in activities, but keeps her safe from older children.
  • Avoids the use of walkers.
  • Has feeding and sleeping practices similar to yours.
  • Allows the infant to eat and sleep whenever she wishes rather than follow a schedule.

Ages and stages

Depending upon the age of your child, his learning style and personality, your child will have different needs. The first five years are especially crucial for physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development. Keep your child’s personality and age in mind when looking for child care experiences and activities. The following pages provide insight into a child’s developmental stages from birth through fourteen years.

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Birth to eighteen months: an overview

In the first eighteen months after birth, an infant makes miraculous progress. In this relatively short time span, an infant sees her world through her senses. Babies gather information through touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. To help infants mature and learn, the caregiver should stimulate but not overwhelm them. The overall goal is not to “teach” your baby but to interact and explore her world with her. Older infants are on the move.  They take great pleasure in discovering what they can do with their voice, hands, feet, and toes. Soon they practice rolling skills, crawling, walking, and other great physical adventures. Through “the eyes of a child,” here is what you might expect during the first eighteen months.

One month 

What I’m Like: I can’t support my own head and I’m awake about one hour in every ten (though it may seem more).

What I Need: I need milk, a smoke-free environment, a warm place to sleep, hugs and kisses, and to hear your loving voice. It’s not too early to sing or read to me. The more you talk and introduce different things to me, the more I learn.

Three months

What I’m Like: My hands and feet fascinate me. I’ll laugh and coo at them and you. I’m alert for 15 minutes, maybe longer, at a time. I love to listen to you talk and read to me.

What I Need: Talk to me, feed me, and sing to me. My favorite songs are lullabies. Cuddle me. I need fresh air, a ride in a stroller. Give me things to pull and teethe on.

Five months

What I’m Like: I may be able to roll over and sit with support. I can hold my own toys. I babble and am alert for two hours at a time. I can eat most baby food. Put toys just out of my reach and I will try to reach them. I like to see what I look like and what I am doing.

What I Need: Make sure I’m safe as I’m learning to crawl. I need happy sounds, and I like to be near you. Dance with me, tickle me, and tell me about the world you see.

Nine months

What I’m Like: I’m busy! I like to explore everything! I crawl, sit, pull on furniture, grasp objects, and understand simple commands. I like to be with other babies and I react to their happiness and sadness.

What I Need: I need locks on cabinets with medicines, household cleaners, or other dangerous things. Put away small sharp objects. I need touches, nutritious food, and educational toys to keep me busy.

Twelve months

What I’m Like: I may be able to pull myself up and sidestep around furniture. I may begin walking. I make lots of sounds and say “Mama” and “Dada.” I’m curious about flowers, ants, grass, stones, bugs, and dirt. I like to get messy, ’cause that’s how I learn. My fingers want to touch everything. I like to play near others close to my age but not always with them. If I’m walking, please walk at my pace.

What I Need: I need lots of cuddling and encouragement. I need a safe place to move around as I will be getting into anything I can get my hands on. Read to me again and again. Sing our favorite songs. Give me freedom to do most things—until I need help. So please stay near.

Twelve to eighteen months

What I’m Like: I like to eat with a spoon, even if I spill. And I will spill, spill, spill.  I will explore everything high and low, so please keep me safe. I may have temper tantrums because I have no other way of expressing my feelings or frustrations. Sometimes I’m fearful and cling to you. I like to have evening routines: music, story, and bath time. I like balls, blocks, pull toys, push toys, take apart toys, put together toys, and cuddles. Sometimes I say “No” and mean it. By eighteen months I can walk well by myself, although I fall a lot. I may jump. I say lots of words, especially the word “mine”—because everything is mine! I like it when we play outside or go to a park. I like being with other children. I try to take off my shoes and socks. I like to build with blocks.

What I Need: Let me touch things. Let me try new things with your help, if I need it. I need firm limits and consistency. Please give me praise. The more you talk with me, the earlier I will tell you how I feel and what I need. I need you to observe me and to understand why I’m upset or mad. I need your understanding and patience. I want a routine. I need you to not mind the mess I sometimes make. I need you to say I’m sorry if you made a mistake. And please read to me over and over again!

The Toddler's Creed

If I want it, it’s mine. If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine. If I take it away from you, it’s mine. If it’s mine it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what. If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.

Eighteen months through two years: an overview

During the next stage of life, your child is beginning to define himself. Look for child care activities that spur his imagination and vocabulary. During the toddler years, children get into everything, so do your best to keep your child safe from a potential accident. Yet, realize accidents do happen even to the most careful parents and children.

When looking for quality care for your toddler, consider:
  • Is the child care setting safe and does it provide small group sizes and adult-to-child ratios?
  • Are there enough toys and activities so sharing isn’t a problem?
  • Are there a lot of toys for building which can be put together?
  • Is there a dress-up area?
  • Do art activities allow the children the freedom to make their own art or do all crafts look the same?
  • And last, what are the toilet training and discipline practices of the provider?
Two years

What I’m Like: I am loving, affectionate, and responsive to others. I feel sorry or sad when others my age are upset. I may even like to please you. I don’t need you so close for protection, but please don’t go too far away. I may do the exact opposite of what you want. I may be rigid, not willing to wait or give in. I may even be bossy. “Me” is one of my favorite words. I may have fears, especially of sounds, separation, moving household objects, or that big dog.

What I Need: I need to continue exploring the world, down the block, the parks, library, and stores, etc. I like my routines. If you have to change them, do so slowly. I need you to notice what I do well and PRAISE me. Give me two OK choices to distract me when I begin to say “No.” I need you to be in control and make decisions when I’m unable to do so. I do better when you plan ahead. Be FIRM with me about the rules, but CALM when I forget or disagree. And please be patient because I am doing my best to please you, even though I may not act that way.

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 Three through five years: an overview

During the preschool years, your child will be incredibly busy. Cutting, pasting, painting, and singing are all daily activities. When your child starts kindergarten around age five, make sure home and child care activities include learning numbers, letters, and simple directions. Most public school kindergarten programs are usually only a few hours a day. You may need care before and after school. It is never too early to begin your search.

When looking for quality care for your preschooler, consider:
  • Are there other children the same age or close in age to your child?
  • Is there space for climbing, running, and jumping?
  • Are there books and learning activities to prepare your child for school?
  • Is television and movie watching selective?
  • Are learning materials and teaching styles age-appropriate and respectful of children’s cultural and ethnic heritage?
  • Are caregivers experienced and trained in early childhood development?
  • Are children given choices to do and learn things for themselves?
  • Are children rushed to complete activities or tasks?
  • Or are they given enough time to work at their own pace?
 Three years

What I’m Like: Watch out! I am charged with physical energy. I do things on my own terms. My mind is a sponge. Reading and socializing are essential in getting me ready for school.  I like to pretend a lot and enjoy scribbling on everything. I am full of questions, many of which are “Why?” I become fairly reliable about using the potty. I may stay dry at night and may not. Playing and trying new things out are how I learn.  Sometimes I like to share. I begin to listen more and begin to understand how to solve problems for myself.

 What I Need: I want to know about everything and understand words, and when encouraged, I will use words instead of grabbing, crying, or pushing. Play with me, sing to me, and let’s pretend!

Four years

What I’m Like: I’m in an active stage, running, hopping, jumping, and climbing. I love to question “Why?” and “How?” I’m interested in numbers and the world around me. I enjoy playing with my friends. I like to be creative with my drawings, and I may like my pictures to be different from everyone else’s. I’m curious about “sleepovers” but am not sure if I’m ready yet. I may want to be just like my older sister or brother. I am proud that I am so BIG now! 

What I Need: I need to explore, to try out, and to test limits. Giving me room to grow doesn’t mean letting me do everything. I need reasonable limits set for my own protection and for others. Let me know clearly what is or isn’t to be expected. I need to learn to give and take and play well with others. I need to be read to, talked to, and listened to. I need to be given choices and to learn things in my own way. Label objects and describe what’s happening to me so I can learn new words and things.

Five years

What I’m Like: I’m slowing a little in growth. I have good motor control, but my small muscles aren’t as developed as my large muscles for jumping. My activity level is high and my play has direction. I like writing my name, drawing pictures, making projects, and going to the library. I’m more interested now in doing group activities, sharing things and my feelings. I like quiet time away from the other kids from time to time. I may be anxious to begin kindergarten.

What I Need: I need the opportunity for plenty of active play. I need to do things for myself. I like to have choices in how I learn new things. But most of all, I need your love and assurance that I’m important. I need time, patience, understanding, and genuine attention. I am learning about who I am and how I fit in with others. I need to know how I am doing in a positive way. I understand more about things and how they work, so you can give me a more detailed answer. I have a big imagination and pretend a lot. Although I’m becoming taller, your lap is still one of my favorite places.

Six through eight years: an overview

Children at this age have busy days filled with recess, homework, and tear-jerking fights with their friends. They begin to think and plan ahead. They have a thousand questions. This age group has good and bad days just like adults. Get ready, because it’s only the beginning!

When looking for quality care for your school-age child, consider:
  • Is the staff or provider trained to work with school-age children?
  • Is there space for sports activities, climbing, running, and jumping?
  • Are there materials that will interest your child?
  • Is television and movie watching selective?
  • Is there a quiet place to do homework or read?
  • Is transportation available?
Six years

What I’m Like: Affectionate and excited over school, I go eagerly most of the time. I am self-centered and can be quite demanding. I think of myself as a big kid now. I can be impatient, wanting my demands to be met NOW. Yet I may take forever to do ordinary things. I like to be with older children more than with younger ones. I often have one close friend, and sometimes we will exclude a third child.

What I Need: This might be my first year in real school. Although it’s fun, it’s also scary. I need you to provide a safe place for me. Routines and consistency are important. Don’t accept my behavior one day and correct me for the same behavior tomorrow. Set up and explain rules about daily routines like playtime and bedtime. I need your praise for what I am doing well. Since I may go to before-and after-school care, help me get organized the night before. Make sure I have everything ready for school.

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Seven years

What I’m Like: I am often more quiet and sensitive to others than I was at six.  Sometimes I can be mean to others my age and younger. I may hurt their feelings, but I really don’t mean to. I tend to be more polite and agreeable to adult suggestions. By now I am conscious of my schoolwork and am beginning to compare my work and myself with others. I want my schoolwork to look “right.”  If I make mistakes, I can easily become frustrated.

What I Need: I need to tell you about my experiences, and I need the attention of other adult listeners. I really want you to listen to me and understand my feelings. Please don’t put me down or tell me I can’t do it—help me to learn in a positive way. Please check my homework and reading assignments. Let me go over to my friends and play when possible. I still need hugs, kisses, and a bedtime story.

Eight years

What I’m Like: My curiosity and eagerness to explore new things continues to grow. Friends are more important. I enjoy playing and being with peers. Recess may be my favorite “subject” in school. I may follow you around the house just to find out how you feel and think, especially about me. I am also beginning to be aware of adults as individuals and am curious about what they do at work. Around the house or at child care, I can be quite helpful.

What I Need: My concept of an independent self has been developing. I assert my individuality, and there are bound to be conflicts. I am expected to learn and read and to get along with others. I need support in my efforts so that I will have a desire for achievement. Your expectations will have a big impact on me. If I am not doing well in school, explain to me that everyone learns at a different pace, and that tiny improvements make a difference. Tell me that the most important thing is to do my best. You can ask my teachers for ways to help me at home. Problems in reading and writing should be handled now to avoid more trouble later. And busy eight-year-olds are usually hungry!

Nine through eleven years: an overview

Children from nine to eleven are like the socks they buy, with a great range of stretch.  Some are still “little kids” and others are quite mature. Some are already entering puberty, with body, emotions, and attitude changes during this stage. Parents need to take these changes into account when they are choosing child care for this age group. These children begin to think logically and like to work on real tasks, such as mowing lawns or baking. They have a lot of natural curiosity about living things and enjoy having pets.

What I’m Like: I have lots of energy, and physical activities are important to me. I like to take part in sports and group activities. I like clothes, music, and my friends. I’m invited to sleepovers and to friends’ houses often. I want my hair cut a certain way. I’m not as sure about school as I am about my social life. Those of us who are girls are often taller and heavier than the boys. Some girls may be beginning to show signs of puberty, and we may be self-conscious about that. I feel powerful and independent, as though I know what to do and how to do it. I can think for myself and want to be independent. I may be eager to become an adult.

What I Need: I need you to keep communication lines open by setting rules and giving reasons for them, by being a good listener, and by planning ahead for changes in the schedule. Remember, I am still a child so don’t expect me to act like an adult. Know that I like to be an active member of my household, to help plan activities, and to be a part of the decision-making. Once I am eleven or older, I may be ready to take care of myself from time to time rather than go to child care. I still need adult help and encouragement in doing my homework.

As children enter adolescence, they want their independence. Yet they still want to be children and need your guidance. As your child grows, it’s easier to leave him at home for longer periods of time and also ask him to care for younger children. Trust your instincts and watch your child to make sure you are not placing too much responsibility on him at one time. Talk to him. Keep the door open. Make sure he is comfortable with a new role of caregiver and is still able to finish his school work and other projects.

Eleven through fourteen years: an overview

Your child is changing so fast—in body, mind, and emotions—that you hardly know her anymore. One day she’s as responsible and cooperative as an adult; the next day she’s more like a six-year-old. Planning beyond today’s baseball game or slumber party is hard. One minute she’s sunny and enthusiastic. The next she’s gloomy and silent. Keep cool. These children are in process; they’re becoming more self-sufficient. It’s Independence Day!

What I’m Like: I’m more independent than I used to be, but I’m quite self-conscious. I think more like an adult, but there’s no simple answer. I like to talk about issues in the adult world. I like to think for myself, and though I often feel confused, my opinions are important to me, and I want others to respect them. I seem to be moving away from my family. Friends are more important than ever. To have them like me, I sometimes act in ways that adults disapprove of. But I still need reasonable rules set by adults. However, I’m more understanding and cooperative. I want nothing to do with babysitters—in fact, if I’m mature enough I can often be by myself or watch others.

What I Need: I need to know my family is behind me no matter how I may stumble in my attempts to grow up. This growing up is serious business, and I need to laugh and play a lot to lighten up and keep my balance. I need you to understand that I’m doing my best and to encourage me to see my mistakes as learning experiences. Please don’t tease me about my clothes, hair, boy/girl friends. I also need privacy with my own space and things.

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Questions:   Early Education Division | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Thursday, November 09, 2023
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