Nursery: Stages of development you need to know

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” -Dr. Suess

Most nurseries serve children anywhere from birth through 3 years. This age span means that the nursery is composed of young children who are at vastly different developmental stages. As babies constantly change and adapt, nursery volunteers must be prepared to perform a variety of functions—like a Swiss army knife!

For instance: one month ago little Penny was just learning how to sit up; now she is crawling halfway across the room. Ben was recently sitting in a bouncer seat, but now unless he is on the floor playing with large block toys, he gets fussy. Carissa is now walking; she toddles through the classroom picking up small objects and dumping them in a basket.

How can you prepare volunteers to navigate the inevitable and relentless changes in the nursery? Equip them by providing essential information about what to anticipate and how to problem solve during your nursery hour!

Age 3-6 Months

• Ability: These babies typically—

  • play with their feet while lying on their back
  • reach for toys, roll over, and hold their heads steady
  • imitate sounds and babble
  • recognize a familiar face and smile

• Playing Tips:

  • Allow babies to reach for brightly colored, easy to grab toys. Provide toys that they can squeeze and that have different textures.
  • Encourage babies to roll over by waving a toy just beyond their reach.
  • Provide a large blanket as they learn to roll over and to eventually crawl.

Age 6-12 Months

• Ability: These babies typically—

  • can roll over and sit up; they bounce when held upright
  • use their voices to express emotions, recognize their own name, smile at themselves as they touch, taste, and hold new objects
  • learn to crawl and by 12 months they pull themselves upright by holding onto furniture to move around

• Playing Tips:

  • Provide colorful rattles or objects for babies to hold and play with. Be warned, they love to shake, bang, throw, and drop objects—just to see what will happen.
  • By 12 months, babies begin to respond to the word “no” and shake their own head “no.”
  • Ask simple questions such as “Do you want more?” Babies soon learn to respond.

Age 12-18 Months

• Ability: These youngsters typically—

  • learn to walk without assistance
  • pick up objects and build with them; or collect items and dump them from containers
  • can identify objects or pictures that you name
  • know a handful of words and refer to themselves by name

• Playing Tips:

  • Have fun throwing, rolling, and chasing balls with your toddler.
  • Teach these babies new words by pointing out objects and saying their names. Encourage them to repeat the names after you.
  • Show babies how to scribble and draw lines with a crayon.
  • As you talk, use animated vocal expressions and hand motions; watch the babies imitate your behavior!

Age 19 months-24 months

• Ability: These toddlers typically—

  • can walk up and down stairs with increasing independence
  • like to copy other children; enjoy playing with others
  • enjoy shaping things such as clay; like to play with simple puzzles and blocks
  • recognize where things go during cleanup

• Playing Tips:

  • Dance to music and follow-along songs.
  • Play response games such as copycat, follow the leader, Simon Says, etc.
  • Provide a variety of building objects, clay, and puzzles.
  • Use animated tones as you read simple books to toddlers.
  • Allow children free playtime together. With guidance and shepherding, they begin to play safely and learn to share


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