In Reading for Our Lives, I argue that America suffers from an urgent, yet often hidden, reading crisis—and that families need greater knowledge about early reading development to address it.

Checklists of skills that kids typically acquire by certain ages are crucial for parents to recognize warning signs of developmental delays. So I devoted an entire chapter to discussing developmental milestones, listing broad categories of abilities for parents to observe from birth to early elementary school.

My list included language and communication milestones typically found in developmental trackers. Plus, it ventured into learning targets for print awareness, book behavior, and writing. The targets represented when research suggests kids would benefit from having certain skills and knowledge in order to meet grade-level expectations down the road. This is really valuable information for parents who often only hear about milestones and targets after their child has missed one.

Developmental Milestones from Trusted Sources

To be your best, regularly consult the wisdom of credible organizations; seek out information on the development of speech, hearing, and reading (or whatever skills your child is working on); and pair those findings with your own observations and intuitions. Here are links to get you up to speed on the latest milestone lists for children aged birth to five developed by organizations I trust:

Keep in mind that experts will continue to tweak and update milestones throughout this book’s lifetime (and your baby’s childhood). In February 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control removed some of its longstanding milestones, replaced others, and relocated many to older ages, based on new population data and clinical opinion. It moved the age for a child to start talking from 12 months to 15 months, for example.

What doesn’t change is parents’ fundamental responsibility to intentionally seek out up-to-date information and proactively monitor their child’s skills and abilities. Too many kids have not been well-served by wait-and-see approaches.

A Free Online Developmental Screening Tool for Parents

Easterseals, a leading provider of early childhood developmental services, estimates that each year more than a million children enter kindergarten with undiagnosed developmental delays. To turn the tide, the organization gives parents free access to the Ages & Stages Questionnaire, an online screening tool. 

Completing the questionnaire deepens parents’ understanding of and attention to their children’s skills and abilities at various ages and stages. That knowledge and engagement in turn raises the likelihood that parents will seek out support sooner rather than later when issues arise.

What to Do if You’re Concerned About Your Child’s Development

If you ever have concerns about your child’s development, your pediatrician is an excellent first touchpoint. Tell them what you’ve observed, share any developmental checks you’ve done, and ask about screenings. They may refer your child to a specialist, such as a hearing expert, speech therapist, developmental pediatrician, neurologist, psychologist, or early-intervention service provider.

Local schools and early-childcare providers also offer free evaluations to see if your child qualifies for intervention services, and you don’t need a doctor’s referral to get the process going. Here’s a list of U.S. early-intervention contacts for each state, commonwealth, and territory. If your child is three or older, contact your local elementary school for evaluation services.

Remember, You Know Your Child Best

Above all, remember that you are the in-house expert on how your little one grows and changes over time. Any work you do to document your observations helps ensure your child will get timely intervention if needed and will improve their outcomes. Write down what you notice, list your questions in advance, and take notes on what experts or specialists tell you.

For a framework to help you observe your child and know when to seek expert help, try my GPS Guide.