Milestones for children from 3 to 5

Developmental milestones: Ages 3 through 5
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
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

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
By Joyce Destefanis, M.A., Nancy Firchow, M.L.S. –

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