by Jackie Allen

United Way of Dane County is working to ensure all young children are ready for school at the age of five by spreading the word about key developmental milestones.

Healthy development allows children of all abilities to grow up with their social, emotional and educational needs met. It is crucial to provide support and information to caregivers on the benefits of having a safe and loving home, proper nutrition and educational opportunities, so they can nurture a young child’s development and prepare them for success in school.

In the Madison Metropolitan School District, about 42 percent of entering kindergartners do not have basic skills needed to begin the learning process. In addition fewer than half of children with developmental delays are identified before starting school, by which time significant delays already might have occurred and opportunities for treatment might have been missed.

As the most formative years in a child’s development are those from birth to five, family, friends and other caregivers of young children have the opportunity to be the first teachers and set in motion brain connections that will prepare them for learning. Research shows this early intervention can greatly improve a child’s development and help them learn important skills.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for all children during regular doctor visits at nine months, 18 months and 24 or 30 months. Increasing awareness of the importance of these milestones is also key in diagnosing and treating developmental disorders such as autism.

By educating families and increasing dialogue between parents and healthcare providers, we can ensure children get the care they need and are best prepared for kindergarten.

While children develop at their own pace, developmental milestones can provide a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older. Important skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time and waving bye-bye are all significant developmental milestones.

The milestones range from social and emotional, language, cognitive, and physical development. Social and emotional milestones include responding to other people’s emotions, playing games like peek-a-boo and cooperating with others.

Language milestones include responding to sounds by making sounds, saying “mama” and “dada” and following simple instructions. By 5-years-old, children should be able to speak clearly, tell a simple story using full sentences and saying their name and address.

Cognitive milestones include recognizing familiar people and things at a distance, exploring things in different ways (such as shaking, banging and throwing) and completing sentences and rhymes in familiar books.

Physical and movement milestones include holding head up, sitting without support and walking without support. By 5-years-old, children should be able use a fork and spoon, stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer and using the toilet on their own.

By spreading the word about these milestones, United Way of Dane County aims to ensure more children are healthy and prepared for kindergarten. This means more children can succeed academically and in life.

To learn more about the specific milestones children should reach from three months to five-years-old, download A Parent’s Guide to the First Five Years.

Also be sure to visit the CDC’s website for more great information. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/screening.html