Toddlers develop at their own pace, but it’s hard to stay relaxed when you’re surrounded by kiasu mums bragging about how advanced their little one is. Developmental studies on children around the world have found that children show a similar pattern of development across most, if not all, geographical regions, says Joanne Khaw, a teaching fellow at NIE’s Early Childhood & Special Needs Education Department. Two factors influence the pace at which developmental milestones are achieved. The first is nurture - that is, exposure to a skill and opportunities to practise and master it, and the second - nature. So, how do you know if your child is developing as nature intended? Here are 10 milestones to look out for.
1. Hold a pencil
By the time they reach 1, most tots develop the “pincer movement” ¾ using the thumb and one finger to hold a fat crayon. By 18 months they use a fist or dagger-like grip. At 2, toddlers gain more control, and by 3, they begin to hold a pencil in the proper position. Some children won’t hold a pencil with precision until they’re 4 or even 5. It’s best to avoid pushing her, or she may revert to using her fist again.
2. Draw a picture
One-year-olds scribble indiscriminately. They love finger painting and progress to wobbly circles at around 2. By 3, they can copy (messily!) simple shapes, such as circles, lines or crosses.
3. Ride a bike
From 18 months to 2 years, tots can scoot along on ride-on toys. They progress to trikes, mastering the pedal action by around 3.
Between 1 and 2, toddlers begin to know the names of numbers, often through nursery rhymes. Between 2 and 3, they can count from 1 to 10, but by rote. Real counting, knowing about ‘two-ness’ or ‘three-ness’ (for example, give me two apples) comes later, at about 4 years.
5. Recognise letters
Little ones won’t recognise individual letters until they’re at least 3, often later. At 3 or 4, they start to identify familiar letters, like “a” for “apple” or “m” for “mum”.
6. Catch or hit a ball
Babies push a ball and toddlers love throwing them, but it’s not until 2 or 3 that they have the hand-eye coordination to direct or catch it. At 2, they try kicking a ball and by 3, can catch an easy throw, hit a close target and use a wide bat.
7. Use a fork and spoon
A 1-year-old can hold a spoon, but struggles to eat with it. A 2-year-old has a more secure hold and greater success using it, but it’s only when they are 3 that they are able to coordinate both fork and spoon. Knife use comes even later. As for chopsticks, a 2002 study which found that little learners usually acquire this complex skill only at the age of 4½.
8. Brush their teeth
Between 1 and 2, tots will mostly chew on their toothbrush. At 2, they can brush haphazardly, and by 3, most will be able to clean their teeth with supervision.
9. Talk in sentences
At 1, tots can use simple words, and by the age of 2, most know around 50. By 3, they know around 1,000 and can construct short sentences. Between 3 and 4, they use simple sentences to ask “what”, “why” and “how” questions. The benefits of speaking to your toddler cannot be overestimated. Keep up a constant chatter, describing what you’re doing and what everyday things are. Then, encourage her to repeat what the objects are.
10. Dress themselves
Between 1 and 2, tots will begin to help mum with dressing/undressing themselves. They start with easy things, like socks. At 2, they can pull down their pants but not pull them back up. By 3, they manage large buttons and want to dress themselves, but still get it wrong, like putting shoes on the wrong feet.