The Stages and Sequences of Cognitive Development from Birth to 7 Years Old

Cognitive development or development of the mind, is the range of skills needed to make up human intelligence. It is this mental ability that enables us to process, sort, to reason and understand information, in order for us to solve problems. Our ability to learn, concentrate our attention, use perception and remember information also enables to us to use language to communicate our thoughts and ideas, and symbolise, to be creative and imaginative. These are all affected by any previous experiences, knowledge, and by our emotional state at the time. 

Newborn babies are born with primitive reflexes which are responses to specific stimuli – swallowing and sucking, rooting, grasping, stepping, startle, asymmetric tonic neck and falling (moro) reflex, which are innate for survival. Coupled with their 5 senses - sight, smell, sound, taste and touch, help them to relay back information they experience to the brain where it is processed, enabling them learn and make sense about the world in which they live. 


At Birth

Recognise a face-shaped object

Copy facial expressions – ‘O’ shapes and tongue protrusions, known as ‘pre-speech’ (Colwyn Trevarthen)

Turn to a familiar voice

Track a sound, high contrast object, or a face

Turn to smell of mother’s breast

Show likes and dislikes through cues, facial expressions, cooing crying

Can show pleasure with immature smile

Develops basic concepts e.g. feeling of hunger, and then cries to get fed

Explores using senses and own movements


1-4 months

Gaze longer at a liked object


Face-to-face play and mirroring enrich communication skills

Cries in more expressive way, non cry noises e.g. cooing, gurgling and laughing

Actions become more purposeful

Anticipate a familiar routine

Begins to combine/relate experiences to meaningful actions – giving a sense of self

Recognise differing sounds – imitate low and high-pitched sounds

Link objects to sounds

Repeats enjoyable movements e.g. sucking a thumb

Takes more interest in surroundings

4-6 months

Reaches and grabs object – can judge distance in relationship to object and size

Coordination skills improving – reach to grasp an object, put it to the mouth and suck

Enjoys high contrast coloured objects

Recognises mother to be permanent

Can develop favourite tastes

Understands the meaning of ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘bye bye’

Show some understanding of emotional state of main carer

Knows gestures for ‘up’ and ‘down’

Uses first monosyllables ‘ga, ga’


6-9 months

Looks in the direction of a fallen object

Recognises the purpose of an object – bottle means food

Understands objects are permanent even if out of sight

Recognises familiar pictures

Can anticipate the future – knows daily routines

Babbling increases

Imitates adult sounds

Understands ‘no’

Now knows characteristics of mother tongue and won’t respond to a foreign language


9-12 months

Memory develops and uses trial and error to learn about objects

Copies simple actions and instructions – ‘wave bye, bye’

Imitates sounds and moods

Can speak 2-6 recognisable words and babbling has increased to more speech like intonations

Begins to treat an object in the correct way e.g. tooth brush for teeth not hair


1-2 years

Can follow simple instructions

Understands nouns – the names of objects (can use 6-40 words)

Learns predictability of as object through experimenting

Uses toys to represent real objects in play

Talks to self and refers to self by name

Can name and point to various body parts

Can identify a few named objects in pictures

Echo’s (echolalia) last part of what someone says

All animals 4-legged are referred to the same e.g. cat (holophrase)

Favourite phases – ‘again’, ‘more’

Can scribble


2-3 years

Memory has improved enabling understanding of concepts

Name and match 2-3 colours

Interested in names of people and objects

Beginning to be empathic

Speaks over 200 words – understanding more than they can speak

Omit opening or closing consonants and use telegraphic speech, phrases with ambiguous meanings e.g. ‘mummy-coat’, meaning I want to go out with mummy

Understands concept if something falls it may break

Enjoys joining in with song and nursery rhymes

Can make up and down movements with crayon

3-4 years

Develops symbolic behaviour – e.g. can talk, pretend plays, takes part in non-competitive games, draws and models object in a representative way, identify common colours 

Begins to understand concept of time – can think in past, present and future

Favourite word ‘why?’

Can sort objects into simple categories

Remember and repeat songs and nursery rhymes

Count up to 10 by rote not fully understanding the actual quantity involved

Knows their name and sex 

Uses link works ‘the’ and ‘is’

Can control their attention; leaving an activity and returning to it later


4-5 years

Count up to 20 by rote but understand up to 3

Understands concepts – more and fewer, big small

Can sort into groups

Can solve problems 

Have increased memory enabling them to relay events from the past

Can confuse reality with fantasy

Write and recognise own name when written

Can tell a joke

Talk fluently, ask questions and understand the answers

Mixes up tenses 

Becoming empathic

Enjoys music, singing and dancing


5-7 years

Communication using all body language

Draw people and landscapes in detail

Give full name, age, address, and date of birth

Can write own name

Grammatically correct on the whole

Can hold in the mind more than one point of view

Beginning to understand numbers

Can use voice and actions to ‘act’ or become another in pretend play

Talk fluently and confidently and tells stories

Helps younger children

Beginning to understand difference between real and fantasy

Begin to understand concepts of all methods measuring

Interested in scientific principles

Beginning to read independently

Use a keyboard or mouse

Perform simple calculations

Tell the time

Enjoy learning about the world around them



The Children's Project Ltd
Changing the World - one baby at a time
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