Milestones are a foundation of BabySparks – our starting point for creating the hundreds of development-supporting activities that you do with your babies and toddlers in your daily play programs. So when the CDC released an updated set of developmental milestones in February, 2022 (many of which appear at older age ranges) we, like many of you, thought: What does this mean?!
We had the opportunity to talk to Katie Green, the team lead for the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program, and Dr. Jennifer Zubler, a pediatrician and consultant to Green’s team, who helped us understand the CDC’s changes. In short, the new milestones are part of a larger push to encourage communication between parents and their children’s doctors – communication that leads to more screening, detection and early intervention for developmental delays.
Let’s take a closer look.
In the new milestones, why do many of them appear at older ages?
First, Green and Zubler want to be clear that the changes are not, in any way, related to the pandemic. “This work was done in 2019,” Zubler said. “It has nothing to do with the pandemic or mask wearing, as some have suggested.”
“We are not saying that development has changed,” added Green. Previously, the CDC milestones reflected skills that at least 50% of children were expected to master by a certain age. Now, they are “highlighting milestones that at least 75% of children are expected to show.”
Presenting the milestones this way accomplishes one key thing: It helps parents know WHEN to act on potential developmental delays. Before, if your child hadn’t met a milestone, it wasn’t clear if you needed to act on it, because only half of their same-age peers had reached it. Now, if your child hasn’t met a milestone, it’s a clear sign that it needs to be addressed, because they are behind most of their same-age peers.
In addition, the CDC used the data they had, along with subject matter experts, to “fit the milestones to the most appropriate well-child visit.” This circles back to their goal: to empower parents to discuss their child’s development regularly with their child’s doctor, and take action if their child shows signs of a possible delay. Because the new milestones match the ages of well visits, it’s easier to start a parent-doctor conversation about those that aren’t being met.
Is BabySparks going to present its milestones in a new way, too?
We are making very few changes to our milestones, because our milestones serve a different purpose than the CDC’s. Our milestones, which were developed based on rigorous research involving several renowned sources, are meant to be a starting point for supporting your child’s development – not an indication that your child is already behind.
We acknowledge that our milestones, like any other source, are not always spot-on, because all children develop at their own pace. But they give you a trajectory to follow – a map of how skills build upon each other as your little one grows. And because our algorithm learns your child’s specific needs as you use and interact with our app, their daily activities will reflect the skills they need to practice, regardless of whether they are somewhat ahead or behind on a milestone. The purpose of our program is to help guide you in supporting your child’s development – ideally avoiding delays altogether.
In contrast, the purpose of the CDC milestones is more direct: They are part of a larger “health communication tool” that specifically helps parents, doctors, and other early childhood professionals get more children into early intervention programs if they need it. Zubler emphasizes that the CDC milestones are not a screening tool, but rather a conversation starter – something that sparks a discussion that leads to specialized screening if needed. Zubler also points out that “milestones are just one part of what the checklists offer families; equally important are the new open-ended questions prompting other important information to share with the doctor, and guidance about how to connect with services when needed.”
What about crawling being removed from the milestones?
“Not every milestone is on the CDC checklist,” said Zubler. There simply is not enough data, she explained, to include crawling as a universal milestone. “It doesn’t mean that crawling isn’t important. But not all babies crawl. There are different kinds of pre-walking mobility. Is a baby scooting on their bottom? Doing a combat crawl? All of these cannot be easily captured in one milestone.”
That said, here at BabySparks we love crawling and will continue to emphasize it. We are fascinated by the countless ways it supports development: fostering new types of vision, honing bilateral coordination, integrating the vestibular system, preparing the hands and fingers for complex fine motor skills… which is why we included so many crawling activities in our play program. You can also find articles, infographics and videos about crawling in your daily feed and on the ‘Parent Resources’ page of our website.
We hope that this helps clear up any confusion you might have had about the changes to the CDC milestones, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you still have questions.
You can also visit the CDC website to learn more about the Act Early program, and the updated milestones.