How to stand out in the crowded preschool market

Children develop rapidly through the first months and years of life, making this a time of massive change for little ones and their parents. Traditionally this age group has been separated into ‘baby’ and ‘pre-school’ markets, but if we look at the stages of development within these categories, it’s clear than an awful lot is going on that isn’t being catered to by categorising in this way.



Ages and stages of development


From birth, infants’ brains are making all sorts of connections that will lay the foundation for later development. In the first months of their lives, infants become increasingly aware of their environment, but it’s not until around six months that they really become active agents in their world.

There are a lot of ‘firsts’ ahead over the next two years as little ones begin to crawl, walk, talk, eat solid foods, potty train, and much more. Because the different areas of development overlap, each newfound skill opens up the opportunity for more learning. For example, crawling gives infants the chance to explore more of their surroundings and choose what they want to play with, fostering their curiosity and independence.

From two-and-a-half years, most youngsters will have got to grips with the key skills; they can walk and run to their heart’s content (or until their legs get tired), play and communicate with others, and have a better-developed memory and understanding of the world. As children join nursery or pre-school, the attention shifts from tackling the infants ‘firsts’, to education and learning (albeit through play).

An evidence-based initiative


DHX Brands has identified a new sub-category, ‘First Steppers’, to help the industry truly understand this market. First Steppers represents 1.5 million children, a significant portion of the market that licensees and retailers can cater to specifically.

To develop the framework for this initiative, our team provided evidence of the developmental characteristics of children from birth to five years, as well as identifying issues faced by parents of that age group through consumer research. 

As you can imagine, or perhaps have experienced for yourself, there’s not a moment’s rest when you have a child this age. Parents can feel exhausted, even scared, as they do their best to get through all of their little ones ‘firsts’.

So when speaking to parents of First Steppers, we found that rather than focusing on milestones such as learning to walk and talk, parent’s purchasing habits tended to be centered around pain points and daily challenges. For example, dealing with tantrums, coping with nappy-free children during potty training, and making sure their child was getting a balanced diet.




Parents of infants aged six months to two-and-a-half years old are always on the lookout to buy, as they adapt to meet their child’s ever-changing needs – but they are also savvy shoppers who know how to make their money stretch.

By being aware of their children’s developmental needs and the daily challenges that parents face, offerings can be tailored to a more targeted market. Not only does this make parents lives easier, but it also means that children will benefit from more products and brands that are both stimulating and developmentally appropriate for them.


If you would like to know more about the First Steppers initiative or would like to get involved, please email





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