Child Development and the Arts

Developmental Milestones for Children

Research in early childhood development has defined milestones as indicators for growth and development, many of which can be observed and encouraged during arts participation. The arts authentically provide experiences for sensory stimulation and motor development necessary for growth and development. Children naturally, sing, draw, dance and dramatize stories as they learn about themselves and the world around them.  Arts engagement develops fine and gross motor skills while engaging all of the senses.


A summary of the developmental realms as they relate to arts engagement is provided below. For complete lists of developmental indicators, please refer to early childhood research on the topic.


Observing student performance of these indicators informs teachers of student strengths as well as areas that need reinforcement or strategies to compensate for challenges.  This is discussed further in the section on physical development.


Developmental Milestones as Indicators of the Effects of Stress or Trauma

Developmental milestones can be applied in two ways; to observe a child's development as they grow and to observe the effects of stress or trauma in young people and adults.  Often stress interferes with the ability to perform activities typically performed with ease, such as when people forget words, or stutter when talking to a crowd. Observing a student's response to stress improves a teacher's ability to help the student achieve.


For example, if a child's eyes cannot track across the page for reading, the child will benefit from stress free opportunities for visual tracking which can be provided while drawing on paper or in the air with their hand. While drawing, the hand-eye coordination and the rest of the body can relax for optimal performance. This relaxed ability can then be incrementally applied to tracking for reading.


Additional information is available in the report Child Development and Arts Education prepared by the College Board for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. Click on the link below to download a PDF file of the report "Child Development and Arts Education: A review of Current Research and Best Practices".



Child Development and Arts Education: A review of Current Research and Best Practices

Developmental Realms



Are the students physically prepared to learn? Can students: see? visually track? listen? hear? smell? sense? coordinate movement? balance? skip? move with agility? The physical realm refers to the ability of the body, including muscles and senses, to engage in learning.


  • Gross motor skills are large muscle movements such as walking, running, jumping, skipping, balancing, hopping, and other whole-body activities.
  • Fine motor skills involve intricate muscle coordination: for example, holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, and gluing small pieces together.
  • Body Conditioning includes developing endurance, flexibility, strength, agility, mobility, posture, etc
  • Auditory Capability includes hearing, listening, responding, and speaking.
  • Visual Perception is evidenced by vision, eye tracking, eye convergence, perspective, and perception.
  • Self-regulation is necessary for holding still, sitting at a desk, paying attention, and extending focus. The capacity for self-regulation matures with growth. Healthy self-regulation is related to the capacity to tolerate the sensations of distress accompanying an unmet need. The attuned, responsive teacher helps the child build in the capacity to allow a moment between an impulse and an action. A child who learns to tolerate some anxiety will be much less reactive and impulsive, allowing himself the time necessary to think, plan, and respond appropriately to the current challenge (summarized from Dr. Bruce Perry, Scholastic Teachers).




Do your students have the language and communication skills to be ready to learn? Can they: speak? whisper? articulate sounds? listen? pay attention? echo sounds? process information? communicate nonverbally? comprehend text? cipher? write? The Language and communication realm refers to students' preparation to attend to language dependent learning tasks and to communicate with others verbally and non-verbally. Students need the following skills to be ready to communicate in the learning process.


Speak clearly and intelligibly, using voice and language appropriately. Voice is the sound of speech used to express language. Muscle actions of the tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal tract interact to produce the recognizable sounds. Language is comprised of shared vocabulary and syntactic structures that enable people to express themselves in meaningful ways. In addition to verbal expression, language may be represented in writing, signing, or other gestures. (


Read and understand body language and facial expressions. The research of Dr. Albert Mehrabian has shown that 93% of all daily communication is nonverbal: 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal components (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). Both body language and vocal expression are powerful aspects of instruction for teachers.



Are your students socially and emotionally ready to learn? Can they: Relate to others? Feel/express empathy? Identify emotions? Regulate emotions?Manage stress? Take turns? Communicate their needs? Make eye contact? Work in a group?The social and emotional realm refers to the social abilities and emotional capacities that students need if they are to learn effectively. You can observe students' social and emotional readiness in these five critical areas:

  • Self-awareness. Students must be able to accurately assess their own feelings, interests, values, and strengths, maintaining a healthy self-confidence.
  • Self-management. They must be able to regulate their emotions to handle stress, control impulses, and persevere in overcoming obstacles. This includes setting personal and academic goals and monitoring their own progress. They must also be able to express their emotions appropriately.
  • Social awareness. They must be able to consider conditions and events from the perspective of others and to empathize. This must include recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences. They should be able to access family, school, and community resources.
  • Relationship skills. Students should learn to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation, resisting inappropriate social pressure. They should work together to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflict.
  • Responsible decision making. Students make decisions after considering ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions. Decision making skills should be applied to academic and social situations, contributing to the wellbeing of their school and community.




Are your students cognitively prepared to learn? Can they: be attentive? focus? filter distractions? reflect? interpret? analyze? sort ideas? make decisions? follow instructions? describe detail? stay on topic? apply broad vocabulary? The cognitive realm refers to the development of the brain and the ability of the mind to engage in learning. Neuroscience studies the formation, structure and function of the brain. Psychology focuses on a child's skills in perceiving, processing, expressing, and conceptualizing information taught and experienced.


A brief overview of Piaget's four stages of cognitive development provides a sequence to organize your observation and assessment of the cognitive progression of your students.

  • Sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years). Children perceive themselves as separate from persons and objects around them, understand that things exist that can't be seen, recognize causes and effects.
  • Preoperational stage (2 to 7 years). Children think in concrete and symbolic terms.
  • Concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years). Children consider concrete events in logical ways, including the concept of conservation and use of inductive processing.


Formal operational stage (12 and up). Individuals think in terms of abstractions and generalizations, form hypotheses, reason deductively, and consider moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues (summarized from As they mature, students develop capacities in the following areas of strength:

  • Reasoning. You can observe them beginning to sort, group, and classify objects and attributes; solve problems; and understand causes and effects as they perform various tasks (LDA America).
  • Memory. Watch for evidence that they are encoding, storing, retaining and subsequently recalling information gained by study and experience (
  • Creativity. Encourage them to recognize and generate ideas, alternatives, or products that may contribute to solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining themselves and others (Robert E. Franken).
  • Perception. Guide them in recognizing and interpreting sensory information in meaningful thought, communication, and products.
  • Attention. Help them to concentrate 

How do developmental milestones relate to arts activities?

2 month milestones

Four month milestones

Six month milestones

Nine month milestones

One year milestones

18 month milestones

Three year milestones

Three year milestones


Five year milestones