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Understanding Educational Milestones

Adopted children are often born under trying conditions, which can be exacerbated by stress for both the birth mother and the child, undernourishment and a lack of prenatal care. This can have a long-term impact and many adopted children have developmental delays, disabilities and disorders. Often these conditions aren’t apparent when the children are young  (0-7 years ). So it’s important for adoptive families to be aware and take the necessary steps to intervene early.

Many times, doctors and teachers will believe that a child is reaching academic milestones and there is no cause for concern, but many adoptive families have experienced a different pattern. Our goal is to inform adoptive parents of possible red flags and the resources available to address these issues. Knowledge is power and we want to empower all adoptive families.

Learning differences can be hard to pinpoint, especially at a very young age. Most warning signs can be spotted through observing social/emotional development, cognitive development, language and communication and through movement and physical development. A few specific warning signs for potential learning issues during 0-5 years age range are delayed speech, pronunciation problems, difficulty learning new words or numbers or the alphabet, a short attention span, difficulty following directions, and poor grip of a crayon or pen. In older children, 6-13 years, challenges become more apparent. Some warning signs to look out for are difficulty with speech, problems with reading, writing, poor math skills, poor social skills, poor memory, unable to follow instructions, disruptivness or inattentive behavior. For more details, this CDC app describes milestones in detail by age.

Here is a basic guide to age-appropriate academic and pre-academic skills.

Age Math Reading Writing
0-5 years

Understand that a rattle toy makes noise

Toddler knows to hold fingers up to express numbers.

Preschoolers can count to 20

Kindergartners draw/copy symmetrical shapes

Look/touch pictures in books

Name familiar pictures

Knows correct way to hold a book

Match letter sounds to letters

Read some sight words

Hold a pencil straight up and down in clenched fist.

Attempt to write from left to right by making scribbles

Try to write letters of the alphabet and copy words

5-13 years

Count/Write 0-100

Use paper/pencil for math problems

Compare numbers

Estimate and round

Start reading or ask to be read to

Recognize about 200 sight words

Make the move from learning to read to reading to learn

Identify and articulate main ideas

Learn to hold a pencil correctly.

Use inventive spelling

Develop improved handwriting

Start to use the writing process, (writing, proofreading, correcting)

13-18 years

Basic Algebra with one unknown number

Work with fractions, percentages and proportions

Understand basic geometry

Use math language to convey thoughts and solutions

Summarize what has been read

Relate events in story to their own

Make inferences, draw conclusions

Write multi-paragraph essays

Sharpened grammar skills, using complex sentences

Adding to vocabulary

Different styles of writing


  1. “Educational milestones” (understood.org)



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