Supporting Success: Understanding Early Childhood Development Stages

Your young child’s behavior can sometimes seem completely baffling and mysterious! Why is your toddler spending hours throwing their clean laundry at the wall when their typical attention span is about six seconds? Why does your preschooler suddenly respond “NO!” to every question, even when it makes no sense?

All behavior stems from a developmental need. Understanding the early childhood development stages is an excellent way to make sense of challenging behavior. It can be key to supporting your growing child.

Development is more than developmental milestones! Read on to learn more about the stages of early childhood development. You will learn how early childhood education is key to supporting development needs.

Early Childhood Development Stages

It is hard to define a specific number of developmental stages because even the experts argue over how many there are and what defines each one! One of the systems that professionals use was originally described by Jean Piaget. He describes four developmental stages, defined by the kind of behavior you expect to see at each stage.


Most children are in the sensorimotor stage between birth and the age of two. In essence, this is a time of great physical development, and infants and young toddlers learn by exploring the world with their senses. This is the time when babies are most likely to put things into their mouths in an attempt to understand the world.


The preoperational stage, usually between the ages of 2 and 7, is when children gain the ability to think symbolically. They begin to create representational art and can use words to represent the objects and people around them.

It’s a challenging time for emotional development. This is because children in the preoperational stage are egocentric and struggle with empathic perspective-taking.

Concrete Operational

By the age of seven, children usually enter the concrete operational stage of development. They gain the ability to use logic when faced with problems, and their thoughts begin to seem more organized. They use the principles they picked up during their preoperational stage to create their understanding of the world.

Formal Operations

From the age of twelve on, humans are in their formal operational stage. We become capable of abstract and theoretical thought that leads to the development of morals, ethics, and philosophical orientation. By now, we can see problems from many perspectives at once.

Behavior and Education

Early childhood educators understand the connection between development and learning. They understand that a child who seems obsessed with a certain behavior is trying to make sense of a rule that governs their universe. They recognize that a child who feels compelled to say “NO!” to every question is grappling with their agency.

Early childhood professionals use this knowledge of development in their daily practice. You can learn more at

Knowledge Is Power

These early childhood development stages are universal. Even so, they may look different in different children. Taking a moment to wonder why your child does what they do can lead to fascinating insights about their developmental needs.

You can continue learning and growing too! Check out the rest of the blog for more posts that can help you grow and develop into a better parent or caregiver.