Nothing makes you prouder as a parent than seeing your child reach their big milestones: the first smile, the first word, the first step.
But when you’re permanently frazzled from rushing around after your little one, it can be easy to miss the smaller moments that show just how much they’re developing.
Here are some of those milestones that might not seem like a big deal, but that actually prove your child is gaining new skills by the day.
How many have you spotted so far?
Babies of around five months love to play peekaboo, gurgling with laughter when you hide behind your hands and then pop out at them.
But why is it so much fun? Well, experts think that it’s because at this age, babies develop what’s known as ‘object permanence’ – an understanding that things exist even when they are hidden.
And the more your baby plays peekaboo, the more they’re testing and retesting the theory. In fact, by about 10 to 12 months, many babies reverse the game, and will cover their face with a blanket or muslin and then whip it off to make you giggle.
It’s a game you can play anywhere, and every time you do, you’ll be building your baby’s understanding of the world.
It’s impossible not to smile when your baby learns to clap their squidgy hands together, usually somewhere between six and nine months old – and it shows important developmental progress.
Your baby has developed the visual and motor skills they need to coordinate their hands enough to bring them together. And clapping shows that they’re beginning to understand that they can use their body to produce a result: in this case, that satisfying clapping sound.
They’ll also learn that clapping pleases other people, and that they’ll often clap back in response: an early indication of social interaction.
You can encourage your baby to clap by singing songs like Pat-a-Cake and Wind the Bobbin up, and by applauding their efforts when they’re doing something new or clever.
They build them up, then they knock them down again … Making (and breaking) towers of blocks is a source of endless amusement for your toddler.
It’s an ability that develops at around 15 to 18 months, and shows that their hand-eye coordination and motor control are coming on in leaps and bounds – not to mention the concentration needed for such a painstaking task.
In fact, it shows such an important range of skills that your health visitor will check your child’s block-stacking ability at the two-year check.
Building towers with your child, counting the number of blocks they manage to stack, and providing different objects for them to pile up, such as pots, cotton reels or stacking rings, will all help develop their skills.
At the same time as they’re learning to build towers, toddlers are also getting to grips with shape-sorting toys.
Fitting pieces into a shape sorter shows that your child is not only developing the ability to make small, precise movements, but also their problem-solving skills.
You’ll see them progress from simply tipping out the shapes, to trying to ram them through the wrong hole, to finding the right hole and turning the shape round until it fits. Proof that they’ve worked out a solution to the problem.
Giving your child toys that let them practice these skills, such as wooden puzzles, simple jigsaws with two or three chunky pieces, and hammer and peg benches, will help get their brain ticking over.
Throwing and catching
Let’s face it, some of us adults find it hard enough to catch a ball, so it’s pretty amazing that toddlers start to develop the ability somewhere between 18 months and three years of age.
It’s a gradual process: at first, they’ll be able to stop a ball with their hands or feet if you roll it towards them. Then, over time, they’ll learn to catch it in the air from greater distances.
This shows great hand-eye coordination, as well as agility. When your child begins to throw with one hand, rather than two, you may get an early indication of whether they’ll be left- or right-handed.
You can help them develop their ball skills – and, in turn, boost their motor development – by playing rolling, throwing and catching games, bowling with toy skittles, or encouraging them to throw beanbags or sponge balls into a bucket.
Watching your child learning how to jump has to be one of the funniest parts of parenting – so much effort for so little movement!
But getting airborne involves several complex skills: they need the coordination to lift both feet at once, the muscle strength to propel themselves off the ground, and, above all, the courage to try something new and physically demanding.
Once children have mastered the art of jumping on a flat surface – usually around the age of two – they’ll progress to jumping off low structures, like a step, which involves mental calculations about depth and space.
And then to hopping and skipping, which demand even more strength, coordination, agility and balance.
Encourage your child to build their gross motor skills by giving them plenty of space to play and explore, indoors and out. Let them walk, rather than always using the buggy, and try a toddler gymnastics class or soft play to develop their coordination.
We all treasure our child’s first recognisable drawing, and for good reason. Between 12 months and five years, their artistic endeavours will progress hugely, from scribbles to smiley faces.
Learning to hold a pencil, draw and write is a gradual progression. At first, your child will clutch a crayon in their fist, but as their fine motor skills improve, they’ll start to use a more accurate pencil grip.
They’ll develop the ability to copy a shape that you draw, starting with simple horizontal lines, then master the art of making up and down movements, and circular movements.
They’ll also build their language skills by describing their pictures.
Children love the opportunity to practice drawing and writing, so give them lots of chances to create – not just with crayons and paper, but with paints, a tray of sand and a stick to write with, or pavement chalks …
The possibilities are endless and, who knows, you could be raising your own little Picasso.