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Your Child's Development

There is no one like your child

Every child's development is unique and complex. Although children develop through a generally predictable sequence of steps and milestones, they may not proceed through these steps in the same way or at the same time. A child's development is also greatly influenced by factors in his or her environment and the experiences he or she has. The information in this guide explains what child development experts consider to be "widely-held expectations" for what an average child might achieve within a given year. Please consider what you read in the context of your child's unique development.

Your Three Year Old

How your child may develop this year

  • Three-year-olds learn primarily through exploring, using all the senses. While playing, they are better able to ignore distractions and focus on the task at hand. They will even persist in completing something that is a bit difficult and can think more creatively and methodically when solving problems.
  • Language for three-year-olds is taking off. They learn lots of new words and make major improvements in pronunciation. They communicate in simple sentences and are refining their use of grammar. Children this age begin to initiate conversations, want to talk about areas of interest and can relate personal experiences to others with the support of some prompting from grown-ups.
  • Three-year-olds are also able to listen to and understand conversations, stories, songs and poems. They are learning their letters, but may also refer to numbers as "letters." They notice print in the environment and may ask what it means. They also realize that print in books tells a reader what to say. During the year, scribbles begin to appear more like letters and children may string several of these "letters" together to form mock words. They become aware of the uses for writing and may dictate words for adults to write down.
  • Children this age develop their logical reasoning skills as they play. They can put together simple puzzles and understand that a whole object can be separated into parts. They are able to classify and sort objects, but usually by only one characteristic at a time. Three-year-olds identify and describe objects that are the "same" or "different." They can count up to "five," and begin to recognize written numerals "0" through "9." When counting items in a collection, they can now label each object with just one number word to determine the total ("one to one correspondence").
  • Physically, three-year-olds are less top-heavy than toddlers and move with greater sureness. They have improved their abilities to run, climb and perform other large-muscle activities. They can ride a tricycle or pump a swing. They can catch a large ball using two hands and their bodies. Improved finger dexterity allows them to put together simple puzzles, use tools, hold crayons with fingers instead of fists, make balls and snakes out of clay and undress without assistance.
  • Emotionally, three-year-olds need familiar adults nearby for security as they explore and play. As they develop more independence, children this age begin to have real friendships with other children. When conflicts arise with peers, three-year-olds will typically seek adult assistance. They are learning to recognize the causes of feelings and will give simple help, such as a hug, to those who are upset. Three-year-olds can better manage their emotions, but may still fall apart under stress.
  • Three-year-olds build on their abilities in the creative arts by developing greater control over their voices and by recognizing, naming and singing their favorite songs. They can play simple rhythm instruments with a developing ability to control beat, tempo and pitch. Their art also begins to include recognizable subjects. Three-year-olds love dramatic play and will sometimes get so involved in their imagined scenarios that they continue their roles even after the play stops. They also prefer to use real objects and costumes in their pretend play.

To learn more:
Child Development Tracker

Your Four Year Old

How your child may develop this year 

  • When it comes to learning, four-year-olds are developing greater self-control and ingenuity. Their pretend play is more complex and imaginative and can be sustained for longer periods. They can also make plans and complete tasks. Four-year-olds want to try new experiences. They also want to be more self-reliant and seek to expand the areas of their lives where they can be independent decision-makers.
  • The language skills of four-year-olds expand rapidly. They begin communicating in complex and compound sentences, have very few pronunciation errors and expand their vocabularies daily. They can follow multi-step directions and understand explanations given for things they can see. Four-year-olds frequently initiate conversations and are less likely to change the subject of conversation to areas of personal interest. They are also getting better at sharing personal experiences without prompts from adults.
  • Four-year-olds are building their knowledge of written language. They want to know what words in their environment say and can recognize many letters. By the end of this year, many children understand that letters represent the sounds in spoken words and may associate some letters with their sounds. Most children also are capable of writing some legible letters and know that writing goes from left-to-right and top to bottom.
  • Four-year-olds have an increased capacity for learning math concepts. They use logical reasoning to solve everyday problems and can effectively use language to compare and describe objects and shapes. They can count to "ten," recognize written numerals "0" to "9" and add and subtract using numbers up to "four." Four-year-olds know some variations of a circle, square, triangle and rectangle. They know days of the week, months and the seasons, but still cannot tell time.
  • Children this age can engage in long periods of active play and exercise. They are skillful at walking, climbing, jumping, hopping, skipping, marching and galloping. They also are better able to throw, catch, kick and bounce balls. Improved finger dexterity allows them to hold writing tools with a more mature, tripod grip. Advances in hand-eye coordination help four-year-olds do puzzles, play with toys that have small parts and dress and undress without assistance.
  • Four-year-olds approach the world with great curiosity and use their imaginations to help understand it. Hands-on explorations help them to separate reality from fantasy. They can participate in the planning and implementation of simple scientific investigations and over the course of the year, will increase their abilities to make observations, gather information, compare data, identify patterns, describe and discuss observations and form explanations and generalizations.
  • Emotionally, four-year-olds continue to learn what causes certain feelings and realize that others may react to the same situation differently. They have learned to better manage intense emotions with coping strategies like talking it out or drawing a picture. Four-year-olds also show further progress in their social interactions with peers, such as by smoothly joining in a group play situation, being sympathetic to others, or suggesting ways to resolve conflicts.
  • In exploring the creative arts, children this age can identify changes in pitch, tempo, loudness and musical duration. They can sing songs of their own creation as well as memorized ones. Their art begins to be more realistic and may incorporate letters. Four-year-olds love to dance and are able to move rhythmically and smoothly. Their dramatic play is highly imaginative and now has the structure of specific scenarios, like going to the grocery store or rescuing a cat stuck in a tree.