Emerging Symbolic

18-24 months

Children begin to understand that symbols can represent objects, which stems from object permanence. They can also imitate unfamiliar actions after a delay in time. These skills allow the child to remember and repeat words or actions from previous days. Additionally, they begin to solve problems through mental planning (foresight) instead of trial and error.

Vocabulary grows significantly and they begin to combine words into simple phrases. Now children begin to move towards understanding the world through mental operations rather than purely through actions.

Cognitive and Communication Milestones

  • Imitate unfamiliar actions, routines, words, phrases after a delay in time
    • Replicates familiar experiences
  • Use foresight when problem solving
    • Use a tool or chair to obtain an object
    • Place blocks in form board (without trial and error)
  • Beginning to understand words as symbols
    • Word use increases over pre-symbolic communication
    • Starts to differentiate between yes and no 
    • Responds to name
    • Shake head "no"
    • Attends to simple picture story
    • Play becomes representational
  • Object permanence is mature
    • Find sequentially hidden object
    • Maintain image of object while it is out of view
  • Know function of ordinary objects (e.g., phone, brush, etc.)
  • Follows familiar,simple instructions or commands, including simple sequential directions
  • Some self-monitoring and early ability to identify errors, but is inconsistent
  • Impulsive behaviors reflect immature attentional system, distractibility, and undeveloped inhibitory control
  • Begin to identify correct vs. incorrect block constructions (compared to designs) but unable to "fix" incorrect version


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