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As a parent I have the responsibility of ensuring that my children are developing as they should be, but such a feat often invokes several questions.  I have listed several common ones below and will do my best to answer them for you and hopefully leave you feeling more prepared for this wonderful endeavor!

A milestone chart lets you know what to expect of your child’s development at different ages. Keep in mind that children develop at their own pace and just because they haven’t met ALL of the milestones for their age it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.  However, I do strongly suggest sharing your observations/concerns (if you have any) with your child’s doctor and they can help you decide what to do next if anything at all.

Not all milestone charts look exactly the same and vary not only in organization but in content as well. Thus, it can be very helpful to check out a few different charts.  If you’re looking for more specific ages (such as “2 months” instead of “0-6 months”) take a look at the Center for Disease Control website or the Child Mind Institute for variation and use what works best for you.

The milestone charts listed below are my most preferred mainly because of their layout (one page per age group) and because they include “Recommended Activities” that you can try if your child appears to be behind.  Please check them out and let me know what you think!

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Checklists are very similar to milestone charts but instead of merely reading what is expected you actually “check-off” which skills you have observed your child doing. Typically these skills are checked off only if your child has mastered them (so a skill they are just starting to grasp or that can only be completed with help should not be marked off).  The Center for Disease Control actually has some really great developmental checklists you can click here or on the image below to view them.

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One of the most popular checklists used in early childhood is a “Kindergarten Readiness Checklist”. It serves as a guide that helps parents and early childhood teachers know what they need to focus on in order to prepare each child for success in kindergarten.  Numerous versions of these checklists exist, but I recommend contacting your local school district for their version. One of my favorite kindergarten readiness checklists is created by Success By Six and can be found here or click the image below.

Kknder checklist

If you have any concerns about your child’s development I strongly urge you to talk with your child’s doctor. Chances are your doctor will ask you to complete a screening tool called the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) or something similar.  The ASQ can be completed for children between one month and 5 ½ years of age.   Many doctors actually ask parents to complete an ASQ at a well child check-up (even if you don't have any concerns), so you may have already completed one.  The ASQ offers screenings for the following ages (in months): 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, and 60.  Again, if you have any concerns after completing the ASQ please share them with your child's doctor and together you can decide what to do next.

Click here for more information on the Ages & Stages Questionnaire.

Click here to access an ASQ form.

There’s even a screening tool called the Ages & Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional (ASQ: SE). That is to be used to help identify children who may be at risk for social or emotional difficulties.  Neither of these ASQs actually diagnose children with delays or disorders but can help identify which children may benefit from more in-depth evaluations or services. Again, if you have any concerns or questions please speak with your child’s doctor.

Click here for more information on the ASQ: SE

Click here to access an ASQ form.

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An assessment can be used for precisely that purpose. You may consider “assessment” to be the same as “testing” and let’s be honest, most of us do NOT like the idea of testing our young children so I propose that you consider an assessment to be more like a tool that helps you (or another individual) get to know your child a little better.  Keep in mind that an assessment will never fully show all that your child knows or can do, but it can offer information on their strengths and weaknesses.  That information can then be used to guide your teaching or planning efforts so that you’re choosing activities that will be the most beneficial for your child.

Ample free assessments exist on the web but the best (by far) that I have found is a set of three different assessments created by Handwriting Without Tears.

  1.  Readiness & Handwriting
  2. Language & Literacy
  3. Numbers & Math

In order to access these assessments you will need to create a free account by clicking here.

They also offer free instructions and record sheets for the teacher/parent to use along side the assessment which is extremely helpful in collecting accurate information initially and for comparing results later on .  However, I think my favorite thing about these assessments is their layout.  Each page (excluding the Readiness & Handwriting assessment) folds either in half or in thirds.  This really supports the child in narrowing their focus since they are only looking at one part of the assessment at a time.

From my experience children 3 and under do better with checklists as they are more informal.  For example if the checklist asks if your child climbs well don't feel like you have to take him/her to the playground if you already know they climb like a monkey!  If there are items that you aren't 100% sure on then you should try and set up activities that will allow you to observe those abilities.

An assessment on the other hand is usually more of a sit down type activity that requires a child's full attention...and let's be honest not too many toddlers are up for such a task, which is why I recommend waiting until your child is at least 4 years old before attempting one.  However, you know your child best so do what works for them.

Try your best to make it fun. Did you ever have a teacher that talked in a monotone voice that did a better job of putting you to sleep than it did at engaging your attention? Well, don't be like that teacher! If you make it fun then your child will WANT to do it with you.

Being prepared is key. Familiarize yourself with the assessment tool and make sure you have all the materials necessary close by.

Another tip is to choose a time of day where they aren't too hungry, tired or hyped up. Good luck, right? 😉 If they aren't up for trying a certain task or answering a question then move on. If they're meeting you with full bore opposition then stop and try later. And don't attempt to complete multiple checklists or assessments in one day. That may seem like an obvious one, but it's still worth mentioning.

If your child gets an answer wrong, don't frown or even tell them that they're wrong. Save the "teaching" time for later. Instead try and keep them motivated and thinking positive with responses like:

"Great guess!"

"Thank you! Let's try another."

"You're doing wonderful!"

After you've completed your checklist or assessment review the results.  Which areas did they do best in, which areas did they struggle?  If you see room for growth in all areas that is ok! Just don't feel like you have to work on EVERYTHING right away.

Only pick a few goals.  I'd suggest between 2 and 4, and to choose goals from different sections.  For example, if you're using the CDC Checklists there are 4 different sections: Social/Emotional, Language/Communication, Cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving) and Movement/Physical, so you could choose one goal from each section.

If your child aced the checklist or assessment move up to the next level and reassess.

Here is a copy of a 3 year old CDC checklist that I completed on Ellie (who is currently 2 and half).  As you can see she has a couple Social/Emotional and a few Movement/Physical skills to work on before she turns 3 which should be perfectly attainable.  I would like to work on all of those skills with her at some point, but I will start with just a few.

  • Dresses & undresses self (Social/Emotional)
  • Pedals a tricycle (Movement/Physical)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step (Movement/Physical)

This doesn't mean we will ONLY work on these goals, but I will make an extra effort to provide Ellie with opportunities to improve her skills in these areas.  "Provide opportunities" that is the key!

After you have completed a checklist or assessment and chosen goals to work on, the next step is making a plan.  A plan for how you will help your child reach their goals.  Before going crazy and choosing a bunch of activities to try I spend some time answering the questions I listed below.  My responses are based off of the CDC Checklist I completed on my daughter, Ellie.

A. Why haven't they already achieved these goals?  Is it lack of opportunities or is there another reason?

I believe Ellie hasn't mastered her dressing & undressing goal because she still needs to build up fine motor strength (for buttoning/unbuttoning) and self-control to stay calm and try again and again.  As for her Movement/Physical goals it is mainly lack of opportunities since it is winter and we spend most of our time indoors.

B. Is there anything I can do RIGHT NOW such as changes to how I approach/handle things?  (Sometimes the answer is not to add more to your plate but to stop doing certain things.)

For starters I will stop automatically unbuttoning Ellie's pants before she even makes an attempt.  I will praise her for her attempts.

I will stop carrying her up and down stairs (even if it does slow us down).

C. Are there any changes I can make to the environment? (I'm not saying go out and buy a jungle-gym.  Instead I try to think of changes I can muster using things I currently have.  Sometimes just putting things in a different location can do the trick!)

 After a thorough cleaning (which Ellie helped with) we brought her tricycle and balance bike inside.  For now they are in the basement so I will need to make a stronger effort of letting Ellie play down there on a more regular basis.

If your planning stops here, that's okay, even those few changes will make a difference but if you want to take it a step further, GREAT!  I'm here to help! Planning activities is my addiction.  I. CAN'T. STOP!  I'm always learning new activities and adding them to my page.  Check out my current collection here.

However, the best activities to use are ones that incorporate your child's interests.  Say your child LOVES building with blocks but has shown absolutely no interest in learning the letters of the alphabet then you should bring the alphabet into the block play.  Write letters on the blocks and spell out names of family members or simple words, group blocks by the letter they start with, put painters tape to "write" letters on the ground and place blocks on top of it...I could go on and on.  Use your child's interests as the "theme" around which the goal specific activities are centered.

Determining the appropriate frequency is important because if you complete an assessment too often you won't see much improvement.  Yet, if you wait too long and continue working on the same goals you may end up boring your child (which often leads to behavior problems) and wasting time that could've been spent working on other goals.

Remember, checklists and assessments (aka "testing") are just a means of collecting information and you are doing the same thing when you're observing your child playing.  Observations are just less formal, but are still VERY valuable and worthwhile! (So don't stop or replace with testing!) Through observation most parents have a good handle on their child's strengths and weaknesses, but assessments can reassure you that your child is on track and can help guide your planning efforts.

The frequency you choose needs to work for you and your family.  You need to have time to conduct the assessment but most importantly time to review the results.  (Don't forget to answer the three questions I listed in in the section titled "How can I help my child?")  With that being said I would suggest completing an assessment every 3-4 months.  I understand that life gets away from us at times so even if you push that out to every 6 months it's still better than NOT doing it at all, right?! So again, do what works for you and your family.

As for picking new goals, feel free to choose different goals sooner than every 3 months if your child has mastered them or seems to be blatantly opposed to working on them right now.  Try a different: activity, approach, teacher (try grandma, uncle, etc.) or move on to a different goal.  There's no need to force something if they're not interested.  Learning should be fun, for both the teacher and the student and if it isn't then something needs to change.

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