The Difference Between Benchmarks and Milestones


Childhood stages describe development highlighted by important learning achievements. While some parents and professionals interchange the terms milestone and benchmark, others consider distinctly different meanings for each term. Milestones describe important skill mastery such as walking without assistance or speaking the first word. Parents and medical professionals look for kids to meet a set of childhood milestones at different ages. Benchmarks typically describe advances made by children that help develop important milestones, rather than a specific event or demonstration of a new behavior. An example of a childhood benchmark includes understanding how to grip a pencil or crayon or learning to share toys.

Childhood Milestones

  • Milestones are major developments for children, and descriptions refer to the age of the child. Lists for important childhood milestones divide the events according to the child's age. Targeted ages to expect milestones include every few months during infancy and every year for toddlers. An important milestone for a two-month-old baby, for example, includes smiling and cooing. Important physical and movement milestones feature holding the head up without assistance when positioned on the tummy. Milestone lists also categorize major developments in the areas of socialization and emotions; language and communication; cognitive and intelligence; and physical movement.

Benchmark Behavior

  • Benchmarks mark minor childhood developments, and include behavior that develops over a period of time, such as learning and practicing the leg and arm movements that when combined allow the child to reach the milestone skill of crawling or walking. Your child reaches benchmarks on an informal calendar, and each child has a unique process of development. Some infants fail to show any of the benchmarks necessary to reach a milestone, but over the course of a week or month quickly master all of the elements and immediately achieve a milestone.

Delayed Behaviors

  • Identifying missed childhood milestones and delays in benchmark behaviors helps parents and teachers develop remedial activities to move the child closer to meeting the important mark or teaching the skills necessary to develop. Doctors and teachers use annual checklists of both milestones and benchmarks to assess overall child development. Check marks on these lists typically range from mastery through beginning skills, but the lack of any improvement or movement to master a skill or ability shows the child needs targeted intervention or some sort of remediation program.

Signals and Warnings

  • Milestones and benchmarks give important warnings of possible trouble in a child's developmental cycle. Failure to reach a milestone or the child's inability to learn benchmark skills provides a warning for parents that something is wrong in the child's physical, mental or emotional development. Medical professionals use these failures as signs to investigate for illnesses or other developmental problems. Failures give obvious warnings to others that the child needs help. The March of Dimes notes, for example, that the failure to walk by the second birthday marks a missed milestone that may signal serious developmental problems. Failure to move legs in an organized pattern and the inability to crawl using the legs describe benchmark failures that need investigation by a medical professional.


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