Limited Time Offer: Get 2 Months of ABCmouse.com for only $5!

Ages & Stages 3-5

Developmental milestones: Ages 3 through 5

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for during the preschool years.

By Joyce Destefanis, M.A., Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.
Since birth, you've watched your child grow and develop. You've noted his height and weight, when he crawled, stood, and walked, even when he spoke his first words — and perhaps compared all of these milestones of his infant and toddler years to the "norms." The preschool and early school years are also full of changes. From three to five your child's motor skills, language, thinking, and social development change dramatically.

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for during the preschool years.

Milestones: 3-Year-Olds

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

  • walks with an agile, almost adult style
  • runs around obstacles
  • catches large balls and throws overhead
  • climbs ladders; uses slide independently
  • rides a tricycle
  • alternates feet when climbing stairs 

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

  • assembles simple puzzles
  • manipulates clay; finger paints
  • copies simple shapes, such as a cross or circle
  • stacks blocks up to nine high 

Language and Thinking Development

  • understands most of what is said and 75 percent of speech is understandable
  • speaks in complete sentences of three to five words
  • matches pictures to objects
  • learns by doing and through the senses
  • understands concepts of "now," "soon," and "later"
  • begins to recognize cause-and-effect relationships 

Social and Emotional Development

  • follows simple directions; enjoys helping with household tasks
  • begins to recognize own limits — asks for help
  • likes to play alone, but near other children
  • does not cooperate or share well
  • able to make choices between two things
  • begins to notice other people's moods and feelings 

Tips for Parenting 3-Year-Olds

No longer a toddler, your 3-year-old takes in knowledge about himself and the world around him.

  • Transitions are difficult at this age. Provide warning of changes so your child has time to shift gears: "We're leaving in 10 minutes."
  • Rituals are important. Household routines and schedules give your 3-year-old a sense of security.
  • Point out colors and numbers in the course of everyday conversation: "You're wearing your blue shirt" or "We made six cupcakes."
  • Encourage independent activity to build self-reliance.
  • Provide lots of sensory experiences for learning and developing coordination — sand, mud, finger paints, puzzles. 

Milestones: 4-Year-Olds

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

  • running is more controlled; can start, stop, and turn
  • turns somersaults; hops on one foot; gallops
  • can easily catch, throw, and bounce a ball
  • can brush teeth, comb hair, wash, and dress with little assistance 

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

  • copies crosses and squares
  • prints some letters
  • uses table utensils skillfully
  • cuts on a line 

Language and Thinking Development

  • uses a 1,500-word vocabulary; speaks in relatively complex sentences ("Mommy opened the door and the dog ran out.")
  • understands words that relate one idea to another — if, why, when
  • continues to learn through experience and the senses
  • understands, mostly, the difference between fantasy and reality
  • understands number and space concepts — more, less, bigger, in, under, behind
  • thinks literally; starting to develop logical thinking
  • begins to grasp that pictures and symbols can represent real objects
  • starts to recognize patterns among objects — round things, soft things, animals
  • grasps the concepts of past, present, and future but does not understand the duration of time 

Social and Emotional Development

  • takes turns, shares, and cooperates
  • expresses anger verbally rather than physically
  • can feel jealousy
  • may sometimes lie to protect herself, but understands the concept of lying
  • enjoys pretending and has a vivid imagination

Tips for Parenting 4-Year-Olds

Silly, imaginative, and energetic, your child loves to try new words and new activities.

  • 4-year-olds crave adult approval. Provide lots of positive encouragement.
  • Display calendars and analog clocks to help your child visualize the concept of time.
  • Play word games to develop his growing vocabulary; overlook his fascination with bad words.
  • Offer opportunities for sorting, matching, counting, and comparing.
  • Provide lots of play space and occasions to play with other kids. 

Milestones: 5-Year-Olds

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

  • runs in an adult manner
  • walks on tiptoe, broad jumps
  • walks on a balance beam
  • skates and jumps rope 

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

  • hand preference is established
  • laces (but cannot tie) shoes
  • grasps pencil like an adult
  • colors within lines
  • cuts and pastes simple shapes 

Language and Thinking Development

  • speaks fluently; correctly uses plurals, pronouns, tenses
  • very interested in words and language; seeks knowledge
  • understands and names opposites
  • uses complex language
  • still confuses fantasy and reality at times
  • thinking is still naïve; doesn't use adult logic 

Social and Emotional Development

  • distinguishes right from wrong, honest from dishonest, but does not recognize intent
  • plays make-believe and dresses up
  • mimics adults and seeks praise
  • seeks to play rather than be alone; friends are important
  • plays with both boys and girls but prefers the same sex
  • wants to conform; may criticize those who do not 

Tips for Parenting 5-Year-Olds

Your cooperative, easy-going 5-year-old loves to play and that's how he learns.

  • Join in activities that develop coordination and balance — skipping and hopping, walking on the curb or crack in the sidewalk, or climbing trees.
  • Encourage fine motor skills by letting your child cut pictures out of magazines, string beads, or play with take-apart, put-together toys.
  • Take advantage of his interest in numbers by counting anything and everything; teach simple addition and subtraction by using objects, not numerals.
  • Let your child know what to expect from an upcoming event or activity so he can prepare. Avoid springing things on him.
  • Help him recognize his emotions by using words to describe them: "I see you're angry at me right now." 

Special Thanks to: Great Schools/ http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/health/724-developmental-milestones-ages-3-through-5.gs

Get 2 Months for $5!