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Timeline for toddlers' development

Children develop faster during the toddler years than at any other period in their lives. It's important for early childhood educators to be aware of major milestones, and track these accomplishments. However, since each child develops at their own individual rate, the following should be taken as general guidelines, and not as a definitive timeline:

Stacking Blocks

Typically happens: 16 to 24 months

By balancing one object on top of another, toddlers have to use both their brain and fine motor skills. In addition, they have to master a certain level of hand-eye coordination to be able to manipulate the blocks. Make sure to have a block area in your classroom, where students can explore building. The area should also be equipped with shape sorters, nesting cups and wooden peg puzzles, all of which offer excellent ways for children to develop their fine motor skills and basic math abilities. 

Expressing Thoughts through Words

Typically happens: 18 to 24 months

While most toddlers have been practicing saying words for several months, the first time they put together multiple words to express a thought or action is a major accomplishment. By expressing their wants and needs, children aren't simply asking for more of something, they are engaging in a conversation with you. To help toddlers build their language skills, be sure to regularly talk with them about topics of interest. 


Typically happens: 20 to 30 months

Holding a crayon or marker, like stacking blocks, is another task that requires mastery of certain fine motor skills. When children first begin to draw, the act of grasping a crayon may be difficult for them. But gradually, with practice, he or she will become more confident and start making dots and squiggles. As they continue building their skills, students will increasingly choose particular colors, as well as make shapes and draw pictures to express their thoughts. To engage children, ask them what they are drawing, and whether it has a special significance to them. 

Following More Complex Two-Step Directions

Typically happens: 24 to 35 months

While two-part directions may seem simple to adults, for two-year-olds, they require significant listening and memory skills. Following through on two-part directions requires the child to be able to understand what you have said, and to put those two thoughts together. This process also takes time, so be sure to offer children many opportunities to follow simple directions, and you may sometimes need to repeat instructions more than once.

Before giving directions, make sure you have the child's full attention. Also, be sure to use simple language, and ensure that children understand or learn the difference between prepositional words, such as "in," "on," "over," "under" and "through."

If children are still struggling with simple two-step directions by their third birthday, you should consider speaking with their parents and suggest that they may want to consult a speech-language pathologist.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, refer to ProSolutions Training's brain development course, "Brain Power! Cognitive Development in Toddlers." Through this course, you'll become familiar with the key aspects of toddler cognitive development. ProSolutions Training also offers online continuing education for early childhood educators and social workers. Our CDA Course and CDA Renewal Course meet the needs of early care and education professionals seeking the CDA Credential. Contact us to learn more.