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California State Preschool Policies and Regulations

For more information about state-subsidized programs, please call our office for their contact information.         

Ages and Stages of Development


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.

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.

 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.