Pre-School (3-5)


During the preschool years, your child’s world will expand. Friendships will begin to develop and children will increasingly explore more independent activities. The Preschool Age Overview Section provides information about age-related milestones and when to seek professional help. The Tips for Parents section covers topics about typical occurrences with preschools and things you should be considering, such as legal and financial and personal safety. The Education section provides information about where to turn for help and what to look for in preschool programs. The Healthy Living section covers topics about eating right and physical activity.


Milestones are guidelines to help understand typical patterns of growth and development and when to expect skills to emerge. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move through their interactions with the people around them and their environment. Every child reaches these milestones at their own pace. There are many childhood milestones to watch for. The four main categories of milestones are:

Motor skills

  • Gross motor, involves the whole body and large muscles. Skills include crawling, walking, jumping, climbing, catching, and balance.
  • Fine motor, involves intricate skills using fingers and hands which require a high degree of control and precision. Skills include picking up and holding things, such as utensils, crayons, or stacking blocks, drawing simple shapes.

Language or Communication Skills

  • Expressive Language is about how one expresses their wants, needs and thoughts. Preschoolers do this through retelling popular fairy tales or stories, talks about immediate experiences, uses adjectives to describe people and things.
  • Receptive Language is how one responds to communication. Receptive language is the ability to receive and understand a message from another person. With a preschool this is demonstrated by responding and following direction up to three actions, understanding words for basic colors and shapes and names for family members (grandmother, brother, sister, etc.)

Cognitive or Thinking Skills

  • These include skills that involve the progressive building of learning skills such as attention, memory and thinking. Examples of cognitive development at the preschool age range include arranging pictures in sequence, increasing the amount of time working on a task independently or in small groups, and can draw a recognizable face with eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

Social or Social/Emotional Skills

  • These include understanding and recognizing thoughts and feelings in order to connect with others. Preschoolers are beginning to develop friendships, shows compassion towards another’s feelings, such as hugging a playmate who is crying, apologizing when making unintentional mistakes.

Because many of the early signs of communication and learning disabilities are recognizable in children as young as 12 months old, it helps to know what behavior may actually indicate a problem. It is recommended parents become familiar with the developmental milestones. The following are highlights of major milestones.

Click on the age for the age of your child. 3-4 year olds, 4-5 year olds, 5-6 year olds

3-4 years:

Social Skills
  • Take turns without prompting
  • Forms temporary attachment to one playmate
  • Plays cooperatively with prompting
  • Shares toys or possessions without being asked
  • Names one or more favorite television programs when asked, and tells on what days and channels the programs are shown
  • Follows rules in simple games without being reminded
  • Has a preferred friend
  • Communication Skills
  • Talks about immediate experiences
  • Speech is readily understood when topic is unknown
  • Is able to describe familiar procedures
  • Articulates clearly, without sound substitutions
  • Tells popular story, fairy tale, lengthy joke, or television show plot
  • Uses descriptive vocabulary (shapes, sizes, colors, texture, spatial relationships)
  • Gives dialogue to puppets/dolls
  • Uses “can”, “might”, “may”, “will”, “would”, “could”
  • Uses conjunctions (and, but, if, so, because)
  • Uses 4-7 word sentences
  • Uses “if/then” and “because”
  • Follows commands involving 3 actions
  • Cognitive Skills
  • Sings part and phrases of familiar songs
  • Identifies gender
  • Names 4 colors
  • Understands concept of more
  • Counts (Cardinally)
  • Works in a small group for 5-10 minutes
  • Sorts according to shape, size and length
  • Matches objects by appearance and function
  • Arranges pictures in correct sequence Says a word that associates with another word
Adaptive Skills
  • Use side of fork for cutting soft food
  • Dresses with little assistance
  • Attempts to lace shoes
  • Wash hands independently
  • Turn faucet on/off
  • Brush teeth with minimal assistance
  • Is toilet trained during the night
  • Gets drink of water from tap unassisted
  • Brushes teeth without assistance
  • Demonstrates understanding of the function of a clock
  • Helps with extra chores when asked
  • Answers the telephone appropriately
Motor Skills
  • Rolls forward with assistance
  • Jumps sideways with hand held
  • Begins to fasten buttons with assistance
  • Begins to trace a line with hand over hand assistance
  • Bounces ball with good control
  • Traces a line
  • Copies a cross
  • Copies a square
  • Laces shoes

4-5 years:

Communication Skills
  • Understands time, quantity, and spatial concepts
  • Articulates approximately 80% of words correctly
  • Is able to tell a story about himself/herself
  • Uses adjectives to describe people or objects
Cognitive Skills
  • Colors within the lines of a circle
  • Locates which of 5 items doesn’t belong
  • Attends to task without supervision for 10 minutes
  • Repeats words that rhyme
  • Identifies items based on appearance and function
  • Tells appropriate ending to a simple story
  • Names category of sorted objects
  • Works in a small group for 10-25 minutes
  • Draws recognizable face with eyes, nose, mouth
  • Names an item that would help solve a problem
Adaptive Skills
  • Wash face independently
  • Wash body in bath with assistance
  • Dry body after bath independently
  • Brush teeth independently
  • Brush hair with assistance
  • Sets table with assistance
  • Cares for all toileting needs, without being reminded and without assistance
  • Puts clean clothes away without assistance when asked
  • Cares for nose without assistance
  • Dries self with towel without assistance
Motor Skills
  • Cuts a square shape
  • Walks downstairs with alternating feet, without assistance
  • Climbs on high play equipment
  • Uses eraser without tearing paper
  • Hops forward on one foot with ease
  • Catches small ball thrown from a distance of 10 feet
  • Jumps sideways
  • Skips with increased speed and control
  • Independently rolls forward
  • Performs push-ups

5+ years:

Social Skills
  • Responds verbally and positively to good fortune of others
  • Apologizes for unintentional mistakes
  • Has a group of friends
  • Engages in cooperative play in large groups
  • Plays more than one board or card game requiring skill and decision
  • Has a best friend of the same sex
Communication Skills
  • Uses irregular plurals
  • Uses relational terms (then, when, first, next, last, while, before, after
  • Asks word meanings
  • Tells stories
  • Cognitive Skills
  • Recites all letters of the alphabet from memory
  • States month and day of birthday when asked
  • Prints or writes own first and last name
  • States telephone number when asked
  • Reads at least 10 words silently or aloud
  • Prints or writes at least 10 words from memory
Adaptive Skills
  • Use knife for spreading
  • Brush hair independently
  • Ties shoelaces into a bow without assistance
  • Looks both ways and crosses the street or road alone
  • Covers mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing Wash body in
  • bath independently
  • Dresses self completely, including tying shoelaces and fastening all fasteners
  • States current day of the week when asked
  • Fastens seatbelt in automobile when asked
  • Uses spoon, fork, and knife competently

Warning Signs:

Delays are significant lags in one or more areas of emotional, mental, or physical growth. If your child experiences a delay, early intervention or treatment is important to help with progress or catching up on the skills.

Remember children develop at different paces. Many developmental delays in children may not be serious and children do catch up. Improvements can be made when interventions are started early.

Contact your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following signs so that the child’s development can be assessed.

  • Articulation/pronunciation problems
  • Slow expansion in vocabulary…Has difficulty finding words to express self
  • Difficulty with rhyming words
  • Difficulty learning ABC’s, numbers, days of the week, colors, or shapes
  • Is easily distracted
  • Difficulty interacting with other children
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Extreme restlessness
  • Difficulty holding small objects or picking objects up with fingers
  • Proneness to accidents
  • Unresponsive to traditional disciplinary strategies
  • Temper tantrums
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Destruction of toys or other property, not necessarily maliciously

If you think your child may have a developmental delay or physical or cognitive disability, you are not alone. When you suspect a disability or delay, talk with your health provider about your concerns or contact the Early Steps program. These professionals are here to help you. If your child is diagnosed, there’s a lot to learn. There will be new terms used like “early intervention” or “positive behavior supports”. Ask questions. If you don’t understand the terms the health care provider, therapist, or educator are using, tell them you don’t understand or that you need more details. Always clarify what you heard. You can start with, “so let me see if I understood what you said,” “to summarize” or “to clarify what I heard you say.”

  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s conditions,
  • Find out what type of behaviors are typical,
  • Ask about the process should you disagree. If you feel uncomfortable you may want to seek a second opinion
  • Learn about the services and treatments available
  • Begin learning the educational terms, 504 and Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services and processes

Parent Road Map:

The Unicorn Children’s Foundation recognizes how overwhelming the entire process of having a child evaluated and treated for a developmental delay, communication, learning and/or social skill disorder can be to a family. The Parent Road Map provides some assistance as you learn about developmental disabilities. The Road Map, Click Here walks you through the whole process of where to go if you suspect a problem, how to choose a professional, understanding the evaluation process, understanding labels, developing an intervention plan and monitoring progress.

All children benefit when their parents and caregivers are healthy and not stressed or depressed. The posters above provide practical tips and tools to help build positive relationships and help reduce stress. Click Here to view or download the posters.


Parenting is a process that your child for independence. The early years of a child’s life are very important for his or her health and development. Parents, health professionals, educators, and others can work together as partners to help children reach their full potential. Children grow and learn best in a safe environment where they are protected from neglect and from extreme stress with opportunities to play and explore. Nurturing a child by understanding their needs and responding sensitively helps to protect children from stress. Children learn best when parents take turns with their child when talking and playing while building their child’s skills and interests. Speaking with children and exposing them to books, stories, and songs helps strengthen children’s language and communication, which puts them on a path towards learning and succeeding in school. Other tips from the CDC include:

Positive Parenting Tips for Healthy Child Development:

  • Nurture the love for reading by reading stories to your preschooler, going to story time at the library or bookstore
  • Letting your child help with simple chores
  • Encouraging your child to play with other children. This helps to learn the value of sharing, friendships and inclusiveness
  • Be clear and consistent when disciplining. Explain and show the behavior you expect. Be sure to follow up with what the child should be doing instead whenever saying no to a behavior
  • Speak to your child in complete sentences and using “grown up” words. This helps your child develop good language skills such as using correct words and phrases
  • Help your child through the steps to solve problems when they are upset
  • Give your child a limited number of simple choices when making decisions, such as when deciding what to wear, when to play and what to eat for snack
Healthy Bodies:
  • Limit screen time to 1 to 2 hours per day to quality programming
  • Eat meals together with your child. Let your child see YOU enjoying fruits, vegetables and whole grains at meals and snack time. Limit foods and drinks that contain added sugar, solid fats and salt
  • Make moving and being active fun for your preschooler by providing your child with age-appropriate play equipment and by letting them choose what toys to play with
Child Safety:
  • Always watch your child, especially when playing outside. Teach your child to stay out of the street. Be cautious when letting your child ride a tricycle by keeping them on the sidewalk, away from the street, and always wear a helmet
  • Teach your child how to be safe around strangers
  • Watch your child at all times when in or around any body of water
  • Follow Florida Child Passenger Safety Seat Laws. Click Here for more information on car seat laws

Routines and Rituals:

Preschoolers have not yet developed the part of the brain that is essential to understanding the concept of time. They order their time by events rather than by hours and minutes. One of the most important things you can do to make your child feel safe is to establish routines. Children feel safe when they know what to expect next. A regular schedule gives children, especially those with a disability, a way to organize their lives. When they know what to expect, self-confidence increases. Establishing routines helps children practice making simple predictions and understanding “before” and “after.” Once children have done the same activity repeatedly in the same environment, their sense of responsibility and independence in doing the task will increase. The best part of establishing routines is the decrease of stress for the caregiver! When a routine is established during a difficult or busy time of day, like getting dressed in the morning or bedtime, there can be little argument because the expectations for behavior are already established.

Routines strengthen:
  • An understanding of expectations
  • Feelings of security and trust
  • Increase self-control
  • Self-confidence
  • Fosters responsibility and independence
  • Reduces stress for child and parent
  • Teaches making predictions and the concept of ‘before” and “after”
Examples of routines:
  • Plan at least one meal to eat together as a family together each day. Turn off the television and phones during family time. This is a great time to listen to what each person did during the day. A part of the family meal routine could be setting table, with children being responsible for putting the napkins, placemats, or flatware on the table.
  • A bedtime routine can help children calm down and allow them to prepare for going to sleep. Always do bedtime preparation in the same order. Brushing teeth, taking a bath, putting on pajamas, and reading a calming story.

During the routine ask what do we do next questions, such as “what do we do after we brush our teeth?” Remember to prepare for transitions to the routine. “We have 10 minutes before we start getting ready for bed. When the clock says 8:00, it will be time to go brush your teeth.” Make pictures to demonstrate each step of the routine and post in the child’s room. When routines are interrupted it is important to let the preschooler know that there is going to be a change. “I know we usually do____, but today we are going to do ___ because (give a reason). Tomorrow we will go back to our usual schedule.” This will help children learn how to be flexible and deal with minor changes.

Rituals strengthen:
  • Emotional bonds between the parent and child
  • Memory
  • Self-esteem
  • Attention
  • Sensory awareness
  • Concentration
  • Modulation and regulation of emotions, voice tone, and muscles

In a lecture provided on mental health and wellness supports Callie Lackey of Hope Street Inc. described the importance of daily rituals. Rituals are different than routines. Routines are procedures set in place so that everyone in the family knows what to expect to happen. Rituals, as described by Becky Baily in her book “I Love You Rituals,” provide connections and strengthen family relationships through unique daily practices. For example, a bedtime routine includes taking a bath, brushing teeth, and reading a story. The ritual at bedtime may be the parent and child making eye contact and saying their favorite part of the day.

Other examples of rituals:
  • Making up a special song to sing when stressed, before going to bed, or before having a meal together,
  • Creating a special handshake when dropping off or picking up from preschool.
  • Saying grace before eating a meal and/or sharing something each person is grateful for during this day
  • Putting cell phones, tablets in a special box, and turning off the television during a family meal or scheduled family time

Personal Safety:

Preschoolers are gaining new skills and becoming more independent. They are curious as they explore their world. But preschoolers have not developed the skills to understand what is safe or what a dangerous situation is. Plus, they will not remember “no” when entrenched in playing and exploring. They live in the “here and now” and are often unaware of the consequences of their actions. This makes children ages 2 to 5 at special risk for injuries from falls, drowning, poisons, burns, and car crashes. Injuries are the leading cause of death of children under age 4. On average, one child dies every 10 days when a TV or furniture falls onto him or her. Keep your kids safe from tip-over incidents by visiting the website. Click Here

To learn more about injury prevention visit the CDC’s website on Child Injury Prevention tools. This website covers all possible injury situations. Click Here

Water safety is essential in Palm Beach County!

TEACH YOUR CHILD TO SWIM! Drowning is the leading cause of death of children ages 1 – 4! Florida loses more children under age five to drowning than any other state. Never let your child swim alone even if they know how to swim. When around water, keep your eyes on your child and not on your cell phone! A child can drown in less than a minute in only inches of water. Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation offer a variety of swimming programs to residents with disabilities, such as adaptive swim lessons or parent and child aquatics.  Information can be found on their website Click Here. Other tips for drowning prevention can be found on the Florida Health website Click Here.

Florida Backyard Wildlife:

You may not run into Lions, Tigers and Bears in South Florida, but you do have a chance to come across Alligators, Iguanas, Monitor Lizards, and poisonous snakes! Never let a child roam around ponds, lakes, canals or areas where alligators and snakes are known to be. Alligators can quickly grab a child, pet, or adult and drag them into the water. Be safe around our waterways; we are not the only ones living by the water. Iguanas and Monitor lizards may be cute to see in your backyard but these large lizards carry salmonella and monitor lizards will bite. Snakes are also part of our beautiful Florida environment. Coral snakes are common in many areas of south Florida. Coral snakes are small, vibrantly colored very poisonous snakes! But the king snake which looks similar is not poisonous.

Know the difference:
Red touch black, Safe for Jack (the snake is harmless).
Red touches yellow, kills a fellow (the snake is poisonous).

The coral snake possesses red stripes touching the narrow yellow stripes, and has a black nose. The harmless scarlet Kingsnake has a red and blunt nose; its coloring is repeating patterns of red, black, yellow and black rings — the red rings are surrounded by black rings. To learn more about snakes in Florida Click Here

Legal and Financial:

Life Planning:

What will happen when a parent is unable to care for their child?
Do you have a plan for when life emergencies happen?

Things to consider:

  • Identify a surrogate or guardian that will take care of your child. This will need to be a legal document that both you and the selected party sign with notary or attorney.
  • Health care and mental health advance directives for you and your child will allow for you to designate a person to make medical decisions and mental health care if you are unable to make them yourself. Click Here for more information.
  • Write down the important characteristics of your child such as typical daily schedule, medical care, favorite and disliked foods, physical ability, friends, school info, favorite places to go
  • Write down the core values you wish your child to grow up learning.
  • You may even wish to include a description of yourself and what you would want to say to your child as they grow up should you pass away before your child is able to know you as a person.
  • Prepare with your attorney the Last Will and Testament for each living parent.
  • Determine costs for care and set up a Special Needs Trust

Florida Developmental Council Planning Ahead is a handbook for parents, family members and guardians of adults with developmental disabilities to help families identify factors and plan for the future of a surviving family member with a disability.

Also available for download are writable PDF for editing without guiding questions, or select a link below to download individual fillable sections with guiding questions.

Creating a Letter of Intent:

This video, provided by Kids Health by Nemours, describes why and what to include in writing a Letter of Intent.

Government Benefits:

Your child may be eligible for Social Security Benefits or services through Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Click Here for more information on Government Benefits. The funds through these government agencies are provided to help with the costs of medical bills, therapies, and living expenses for the person with the disability so that they may remain in the community and avoid placement in an institution. There are even ways to save some of the Social Security benefits allocated to your child for future expenses.

Saving for College:

Saving for college should start early when the child is young so that the savings can grow by what you allocate and the interest earned. Your retirement savings is not a college fund for your child! There are many ways to save money for college. There are 529 savings accounts, Florida prepaid, and Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA). Talking to the professionals at your bank or financial advisors can help you in making the right choice. If your child has a developmental disability, don’t think that they cannot go to college. Many colleges are starting inclusive programs for people with intellectual disabilities to provide lifelong learning. (Link to Post-secondary Education).
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 established what is now known as ABLE Accounts. Click Here for more information on ABLE Accounts. These tax-advantaged savings accounts are for individuals with disabilities and their families only.

ABLE Accounts have the potential to significantly increase the independence and quality of life of individuals with disabilities without jeopardizing much-needed benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). “ABLE accounts are a down payment on freedom for millions of individuals with disabilities and their families” – Chris Rodriguez, Director of the ABLE National Resource Center.

What are ABLE Accounts?

Questions to Ask Myself About Social and Family Life:

  • Do I have routines and rituals established?
  • Am I helping my child learn about stranger danger?
  • Do we have a “password” to protect against stranger danger?
  • Does my child know how to swim?
  • Have I taken extra precautions when my child is around swimming areas – pools, lakes, beaches or when boating?
  • Are all pieces of furniture and televisions anchored to the wall?
  • Are potentially harmful household products, tools, equipment, and firearms out of your child’s reach?
  • Are we registered with emergency responders as having a person with a disability in the home?
  • If the child has a developmental disability, has the application for MedWaiver Services been submitted?
  • Have I investigated the option of applying for SSI/SSDI for my child?
  • Do I have savings accounts set up for my child’s future? College savings? ABLE Trust? Other Trust accounts?
  • Have I selected a person to become guardian of my child should I become incapacitated or die?
  • Have I taken all of the necessary steps to make sure my child is taken care of if something should happen to me that I am unable to care for my child?

Healthy Living:


During the preschool years, children are building their physical and cognitive strength. Both physical activity and nutrition play an important role. Yet, one common frustration of parents is the picky eating of the toddler and preschool years. The USDA, CDC, and Kid’s Health provide tips on how to work with your child in these situations. Most of the time these situations can be worked through when providing the child options and positive feedback. But sometimes, there are difficulties with swallowing or eating disorders. When you suspect that the lack eating is due more than just a growth phase, talk to your healthcare provider. There are services available through behavioral therapist and speech pathologists. In Palm Beach County we are fortunate to have Nova Southeastern University. Click Here for a flier on healthy tips for picky eaters.


Children with disabilities are more likely to be inactive than those without disabilities. Always check with a health care professional or physical activity specialist (this could be a certified personal trainer, physical educator, physical therapist or occupational therapist) to understand the types and amounts of physical activity is appropriate for them. Outdoor play is essential for all children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states preschool children should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development. The benefits of physical activity for preschoolers not only include improved brain health, improved sleep and quality of life, evidence shows improved bone health and weight status. Preschool children should be encouraged to be active when they play – aiming for 3 hours a day. Outdoor play will give children a chance to have fun with friends and family. During free play children use basic aerobic and bone strengthening activities, such as running, hopping, skipping and jumping to develop movement patterns and skills. Through unstructured activities that involve lifting or moving their body weight, children are able to increase muscle strength. Children naturally alternate brief periods of moderate to vigorous intensity with periods of rest and light-intensity activities.

Physical Activity Examples for Preschoolers

  • Games such as tag or follow the leader,
  • Playing on playground equipment
  • Tricycle or bicycle riding
  • Walking, running, skipping, jumping
  • dancing
  • swimming
  • playing games that include catching, throwing and kicking
  • gymnastics or tumbling
  • tug of war
  • jumping rope

Palm Beach County Parks & Recreation: Physical Disabilities Community Programs: Click Here for their website. For Special Needs Water Programs, Click Here.

Therapeutic Recreation Palm Beach County: Click Here for their website

Accessible playgrounds in Florida: Click Here for their website


The Health Services section covers topics from choosing a physician to understanding specific therapies. Click Here for more information on Health Services.

Developmental Check-ups:

You take your child to the pediatrician on a regular basis for physical exams to ensure that they are gaining weight and growing... But what about the other developmental areas that make your child the unique, special being you have come to love and adore?

A child’s development is comprised of more than simply physical development, other critical areas include: Social/Emotional, Motor, Communication, Cognitive/Academic, and Adaptive or Daily Living Skills. If you have a concern, seek professional guidance. The Unicorn Children's Foundation has a developmental specialist on staff that is available to discuss your concerns ​via email or phone at (561) 620-9377 or Click Here to learn more.

Rare and Genetic Diseases:

Sometimes after a long and arduous series of diagnostic tests, a doctor may determine your child or loved one has a rare disease. When this happens, the task of finding support can be just as difficult as finding the diagnosis. Searching the internet takes time and not all sources on the internet are reliable. has already done the work for you, allowing you to connect to the support and information you need right away. This website is an online database for over 10,000 conditions to inform and support individuals and family members affected by these conditions. The site provides disease description, support organizations and resources. Click Here for their website.

Other Support Groups related to rare and common genetic diseases:

Genetic Alliance:

  • Jeffrey Modell Foundation, Primary Immune Deficiency Resource Center
  • March of Dimes Foundation
  • National Organization for Rare Disorders NORD, a 501(c)(3) organization, is a patient advocacy organization dedicated to individuals with rare diseases and the organizations that serve them.  NORD, along with its more than 280 patient organization members, is committed to the identification, treatment, and cure of rare disorders through programs of education, advocacy, research, and patient services. Click Here for their website.

Social/Emotional Health:

Social and emotional development refers to:

  • Development of the capacity of the child from birth through five years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships
  • Regulation, and expression of emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways
  • Exploration of the environment and learning—all in the context of family, community, and culture

The milestones of social and emotional development typically achieve between 3 years to 5 years old

  • Imitate adults and playmates
  • Show affection for familiar playmates
  • Take turns in games; understand "mine" and "his/hers"
  • Make mechanical toys work
  • Match an object in hand to picture in book
  • Play make-believe
  • Sort objects by shape and color
  • Complete 3 - 4 piece puzzles
  • Understand concept of "two."

To find more tip sheets on other topics Click Here for the The Related Resources page for tips on handling a multitude of common challenging situations that can occur, such as temper tantrums, hitting, spitting, whining, biting, and preparing for running errands.

Questions to Ask Myself:

  • Are health care professionals experienced in caring for children with this diagnosis being accessed?
  • Has an application been submitted for government services, such as SSI, MedWaiver, Medicaid, or Special Healthcare Needs?
  • Has joining a support groups been investigated?
  • Are you teaching the child about healthy, nutritious food?
  • Does the child get plenty of physical activity?


Media Use:

Preschoolers learn best through active play. The American Pediatric Association recommends a limit of 1 to 2 hours per day of any type media use. This includes televisions, tablets, cell phones, game centers, and other types of computers. They recommend limiting time using a computer, tablet or cellphone to 1 hour per day. Screen time should be limited to 30 minutes a week or less while the child is at a child care center.

It’s so easy to give your child your cellphone or a tablet to play a game while you run errands or do chores but doing so takes away from valuable learning time. Studies have shown that too much use of media devices can impair sleep, increase delays in overall learning, communication and social skills, increase obesity and increase behavior problems.

  • As a routine set up screen-free and unplugged times and zones. Keep bedrooms, mealtimes and family-time screen-free. Turn off your phone or set “do not disturb” times.
  • Create a special ritual (link to section on routines and rituals at the beginning of this overview) poem or song to sing during stressful times, like going to the doctor’s office, to calm your child.
  • Be sure to monitor what your child is playing on the tablet. Set aside time to play the game along with them rather than just handing the device to the child to play independently.
  • Set aside a time to read books with your child.Find time to relax and allow yourself to be your child’s playmate by:
    • Coloring
    • Cooking with your child
    • Creating special crafts
    • Playing with a cardboard box, blocks, balls, follow the leader
    • Jumping rope
    • Playing Simon says
    • Having egg races (with hard boiled eggs and a tablespoon)
    • Nature walks
    • Running around playing tag.

Child Find:

Child Find is part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Child Find assists parents and schools in the early identification of children who are at risk of developing special needs and who are not being served in a public school. Child Find can work with children from birth to age 21 but the emphasis is placed on children from birth to age 5. If you have concerns about a child’s speaking, understanding, moving or playing, seeing, hearing, getting along with other children, learning or self-help skills, Child Find provides developmental screening FREE OF CHARGE in the areas of communication, motor development, vision, hearing, and preschool readiness skills. Child Find also can assist with evaluation and service planning if needed. Questions and concerns call (561) 434-7337.

Prekindergarten/Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) Programs:

The School District of Palm Beach County participates in the Florida Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program. With support from the Department of Early Childhood Education, select schools offer full-day prekindergarten programming, as well as a summer VPK program. All programs provide enriched educational experiences which ensure children are prepared academically and socially to enter kindergarten. Classrooms utilize a research-based academic curriculum and provide caring and engaging opportunities for children to develop critical social-emotional skills.

VPK registration for the next school year opens in the spring. Dates may vary by individual school. Click Here for more information on the enrollment process and to find a school site.

Selecting a special needs child care:

When searching for child care for a child with special needs a parent has more to consider to insure the child’s needs are being met. Before starting the search, meet with your child’s therapeutic team to answer these questions:

  • What are the child’s most crucial needs (consider social, behavioral, developmental, physical, and emotional components)
  • What does your child do well? What does your child struggle with?
  • How well does your child communicate with others, in groups and in 1 to 1 conversations?
  • What supports are needed to make your child feel safe and able to engage in activities?
  • When visiting day care centers use your responses as a checklist of things to look for at the new center.
  • Things to find out when choosing a day care:
  • Types of staff training
  • Emergency procedures?
  • Means of communication between the daycare and parent,
    if there is a trail day
  • Look for an environment where your child will thrive and the services needed can be provided.

Child Care Centers and the American Disabilities Act:

Privately-run child care centers – just like recreation centers, restaurants, hotels, and movie theatres must comply with Title III of the American Disabilities Act (ADA). The basic requirements of Title III include:

  • The child care provider cannot discriminate against persons with disabilities on the basis of the disability by excluding them from their programs.
  • Centers have to make reasonable modifications to their policies and practices to integrate children, parents and guardians with disabilities unless doing so would constitute a fundamental alteration.
  • Centers must provide appropriate supports and services needed for effective communication when doing so would not constitute an undue burden.
  • Centers must generally make their facility accessible to persons with disabilities.

Child care centers which are run by religious entities do not have to comply with the ADA Title III requirements. Private daycares that lease spaces at churches, mosques, or synagogues and have no affiliation to the religious organization must comply.

Questions to Ask Myself:

  • Have you contacted Early Steps or Child Find to see if the child qualifies for disability services?
  • Do I read to my child every day?
  • Are there plenty of age-appropriate books for my child to look at independently?
  • Do I limit screen time (tablets, cellphones, game centers, movies and television) to only 1 to 2 hours each day?
  • Have I set media-free times and rooms?
  • Do you know where to find a childcare provider who can accommodate the child’s needs?
  • Is the child given opportunities to make choices?
  • Does the child have the opportunity to make mistakes? Are you helping the child learn from their mistakes?
  • If verbal communication is difficult, have other ways to communicate been identified and being taught?


As a parent of a child with a disability, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We will advocate for our children to make sure they are getting the help they need. We will fill our schedule with activities to help our child make progress, but we tend to forget about ourselves. This can lead to exhaustion, depression, and isolation. It’s important to take care of your health as well as your child’s. If we neglect our own well-being we may risk our own health and the ability to be there for our children. There are three key points all parents should follow:

  • Live a healthy lifestyle – eat nutritional meals, spend at least 30 to 45 minutes exercising each day, get adequate sleep. Develop good communication skills, consider using “When ___ happens, I feel ____” statements.
  • Know your limitations. No one can do this alone! Be aware of what you can and cannot do. Ask friends, family, advocates, and agencies for help. Remember it takes a village to raise a child. Check the Parent Support section (link to this section) or call 211 (link to 211 section) to find resources to help you with your child.
  • Find ways to relax. It’s important to take time to be yourself. This may be through meditation, participating in religious beliefs, taking a long bath, or reading a novel. Find time to interact with other adults with common interests. It may be doing the things you love such as hobby, going to the gym, or going out with your spouse or close friends.
  • Keeping these three key points in mind will help in managing the stress of parenting.

Respite Services:

Respite services are short-term care that provides a break for a family of a child or adult with disabilities to reduce stress on the caregiver. This not only helps to support the caregiver’s well-being, but also supports the child or adult with disabilities.

Respite services in Palm Beach County:

  • The ARC of Palm Beach County: 561-842-3213 Click Here for their website
  • United Community Options of Broward, Palm-Beach & Mid-Coast Counties 305-325-1080 Click Here for their website


Help Is Available: The Unicorn Children's Foundation has a child development specialist on-staff that is available for consultation.  Our specialist can help you with…

  • Concerns regarding your child's development
  • Questions about different treatment approaches
  • Provide objective evaluation of your child's current treatment plan
  • Connecting you to resources and service providers in the community

You can contact our Executive Director by phone at 561.620.9377 x 303 or by email at [email protected] or Click Here for more information. The Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County (CSC) is an independent special district established by Palm Beach County voters to dedicate a source of funding so more children are born healthy, remain free from abuse and neglect, are ready for kindergarten, and have access to quality after-school and summer programming.  The website provides information on programs and services for pregnant women, families with infants and children under 6, as well as after-school services for school-age children. The Children’s Services Council lists all daycares which are part of the Strong Minds Network. Click Here for their website. Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County. The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County's mission:
Building community-wide commitment for comprehensive, high-quality early learning environments that benefit the children and families of Palm Beach County. Click Here for their website and Click Here to access their parent newsletters. Drowning Prevention—Florida loses more children under age five to drowning than any other state. Annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their fifth birthday. The CDC has key prevention tips on preventing drowning. Click Here for their website Children’s Medical Services (CMS) is a collection of programs that serve children with special health care needs.  Each program provides family-centered care using statewide networks of specially qualified doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Click Here for their website. is a website developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This website provides families with a wealth of information. Topics cover ages and stages, healthy living, safety and prevention, family life, health issues, and tips and tools. Click Here for their website. Learn more about physical developmental delays for children ages 5 and under. Physical Developmental Delays are when a child is not doing activities that other children their age are doing, like rolling over, sitting without support or walking. Click Here for their website. The Kid’s Health Parents page provides information for parents about general health, growth & development, emotions & behavior, school & family and many other topics. Click Here for their website. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Learn the Signs Act Early website has information on Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers. Click Here for more information. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Learn the Signs Act Early website has information on Child Safety and Injury Prevention. Click Here for more information. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Learn the Signs Act Early website has information on the Milestone checklist by CDC. Click Here for the checklist.

Click Here to view the Milestones in Action photo and video library on the CDC website. USDA Choose My Plate website provides information on healthy lifestyles for each age group. Click Here for their website. Pediatric Feeding Disorders Clinic at Nova Southeastern University. For children who refuse to eat an adequate volume of food or for those who limit the variety of food they willingly accept, the Feeding Disorders Clinic works with an inter-professional team to support healthy eating habits and transform mealtimes into successful experiences. With the help of behavioral psychology, nutrition, and speech pathology focusing on oral-motor concerns, the clinic provides comprehensive evaluation and intervention services to support the child and the family with feeding difficulties. Click Here for their website. JAFCO Children’s Ability Center provides family support, child enrichment services and respite services. Click Here for their website. A Parent’s Guide to Choosing Child Care Special Needs Enhanced Service Maryland Family Network. Although this guidebook provides specific information about special needs day care network in Maryland it also provides suggestions on what to look for in a child care for a child with special needs. Click Here for the guidebook. Bright Beginnings This Florida Department of Education’s Bright Beginnings initiative provides teachers and parents with resources to help children in the Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program succeed in reading and mathematics.  This website houses resources to help families support their child's academic success. Click Here for their website. All programs operated by the Department of Early Childhood Education use Conscious Discipline as a proven, comprehensive approach to building self-regulation and social/emotional skills in both adults and children. Conscious Discipline empowers teachers and parents with “the self-awareness, brain information, developmental knowledge, and usable skills necessary to create safe, connected, problem-solving classrooms and homes.  Many free parent resources are available on the Conscious Discipline website. Click Here The Florida Early Learning and Developmental Standards for Birth to Kindergarten (2017) describe skills that 4-year-old children should know and be able to do by the end of their prekindergarten year, and are designed to guide prekindergarten administrators and teachers in designing and implementing appropriate early learning environments.  The website also houses resources for parents to support their children in mastering these standards. Click Here for their website. Click Here for the guide on Early Learning and Developmental Standards Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) provides free safety alerts, safety resources, posters, brochures, handbooks and other materials which you can use to help spread consumer product safety information in your community. Click Here for their website. The goal of Help Me Grow (HMG) is to promote healthy development for every child in the state of Florida. The HMG website is designed to address the need for early identification of developmental or behavioral concerns, and then to link children and their families to community-based developmental and behavioral services and supports.  A comprehensive list of family resources including a list of developmental milestones can be found there. Click Here for their website.


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Written By: Iris Neil, M.Ed. NBCT