The Parents' Guide


Milestones in Cognitive Development of Children - an overview


What is Cognitive Development?


‘Cognitive’ has to do with thinking; so ‘cognitive development’ is about how children develop their ability to think, to remember, to solve problems.


Each Child develops in their own way, at their own pace. No two Children are the same. But there are also similarities. For example, most children begin to talk from around their first birthday.

We call these similarities ‘milestones’. Below is an overview of milestones that Children usually reach at various ages when they develop their ability to think.


But remember: no two Children are the same. Your Child may do things earlier or later than how it is stated here and that may not be a problem at all.


Most 1-year olds:

- Can follow 1-step directions, like: “Give the cup to me.”

- Enjoy looking at picture books

- Can say one or two words

- Imitate sounds and gestures that caregivers use

- Understand and respond to ‘No’

By age 2, most Children:

- Begin to sort colours and shapes

- Enjoy listening to stories

- Start using phrases of 2 words

- Can follow directions of 2-steps that are related, like: “Take the cup from the table and bring it”

- Use simple pronouns (me, you, it) to refer to objects or persons

Most Children who are 3 years old:

- Ask “what” and “where” questions

- Have basic understanding of concepts like color, space, and time

- Can carry out instructions with 2 or 3 steps

- Can sort and categorise objects / pictures, for example animals, flowers, cars

- Are able to do 3-4 piece puzzles

At 4 years old, a Child usually:

- Can use basic grammar rules

- Begins to understand the concepts of counting and time

- Has an attention span between 5 and 15 minutes

- Demonstrates awareness of both the past and the present

- Is able to draw stick figures

Most 5-year olds:

- Can speak clearly in complete sentences

- Can copy letters, numbers, and simple shapes

- Can draw pictures and can name and describe them

- Can count up to 10 things

- Can do rhyming

By age 6, most Children:

- Can name numbers and letters

- Correctly use “tomorrow” and “yesterday”

- Can ignore distractions when they want to

- Can quite accurately recall & retell a story

At 7 years old, Children usually:

- Can carry out instructions with 3 or more steps

- Can spell out and read short words (not: recalling memorised words)

- Can count backwards

- Know left and right

- Can name the persons and setting of a story, and explain the problem and solution

Most Children who are 8 years old:

- Are able to focus on a task for an hour or more

- Can read simple sentences

- Can do mental maths and can use 3-digit numbers

- Can count by 2s (2, 4, 6, 8) and 5s (5, 10, 15, 20)


Please keep in mind that the above is about what Children averagely are able to do. Whether they actually demonstrate these abilities often depends on the school and the home setting. If, for example, the school has not taught a Child to count backwards, the Child will not show this ability. But if by age 7 someone would teach it, the Child would usually be able to learn it.


Most school curricula are designed to largely follow the milestones above, so that what is taught aligns with the developmental stages of children at various ages.


If you observe your Child is often behind or is not achieving some milestones despite being taught well, then seek professional help. Your hospital should be able to direct you.


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