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Developmental Milestones

Characteristics of:
Three- and Five-Year Olds 
Developmental Characteristics of Children Ages 4-6 
Characteristics of Four-Year-Olds

Social and Emotional Development
Four Year-Olds...

  • enjoy a variety of group experiences such as large group, small group, and some partners. They show difficulty in sharing, but begin to understand turn taking.

  • still engage in associative play most of the time, but begin the first steps in true give and take cooperative play.

  • at times become angry (but no more temper tantrums) if things don’t go their way and quickly justify an aggressive act such as “he hit me first.”

  • show difficulty following through on a task and become easily sidetracked.

  • an get their own snacks and clean up without constant supervision, but still are unable to wait very long regardless of the promised outcome.

Gross-Motor Development

Four Year-Olds...

  • learn best when they participate in hands-on, tactile and real experiences.

  • skip unevenly but run well.

  • walk down steps, alternating feet.

  • begin to coordinate movements to climb on jungle gyms and begin trying to jump rope.

  • become overexcited and are less self-regulated in group activities.

Language and Communication Development

Four Year-Olds...

  • expand vocabulary from 4,000 to 6,000 words.

  • usually speak in five to six word sentences.

  • like to sing simple songs and do finger plays and rhymes.

  • will begin to talk in front of groups especially about family and experiences.

  • use verbal commands to claim things.

  • begin to tease others.

  • can control volume of voice for periods of time if reminded.

  • can retell a three to four step sequence in a story or directive.

  • begin to recognize meaningful words and will try to write their own names.

Fine-Motor Development

Four Year-Olds...

  • string small beads and can begin to do some simple patterns.

  • use small pegs and board.

  • dress and undress without assistance, brush teeth and comb hair, spill rarely with cup or spoon, but can not yet tie shoes.

  • draw simple shapes and draw a person with at least four body parts.

  • like to cut with scissors and manipulate objects. They will practice things over and over.

  • build complex block structures that extend vertically, but are limited in spatial areas. They will tend to knock things over while building.

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Characteristics of Three and Five-Year-Olds

Allowances must always be made for individual differences of children. One must not look at chronological characteristics but readiness age characteristics. This means a four-year-old child may be performing on a three-year-old level or could be performing on a five-year-old level. It is very important as a classroom teacher to observe each student and determine readiness age.

Social and Emotional Development

Three year-olds...


  • engage in parallel playwith the beginning of associative play behaviors.

  • tend to be bossy with others often with too many leaders.

  • show difficulty taking turns and sharing objects.

  • enjoy dramatic play with other children.

  • need help in solving problems among peers.

  • show less aggression than fours, but use more verbal insults.

  • can play with others if there are favorable conditions in terms of materials, space, and supervision. If not, may revert to toddler behavior such as hitting, pushing, thumb sucking, and crying.

  • can cooperate with others, but sometimes form small groups that choose to exclude a peer.

  • can follow simple directions.

  • an follow request but may lie rather than admit not following procedures.

  • show silly sense of humor.

  • dress and eat with minor supervision.

Gross-Motor Development



  • walk without watching feet, walk backwards and stop well.

  • walk backwards quickly, skip and run with speed.

  • climb stairs using handrails.

  • walk on a two inch balance beam.

  • jump off low steps but do not judge well jumping over objects.

  • jump down several steps, jump over objects, and jump rope.

  • play actively and then need rest, fatigue suddenly.

  • display high energy level and rarely show fatigue.

Language and Communication Development



  • show a steady increase in vocabulary ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 words.

  • use a vocabulary of 5,000 to 8,000 words with little difficulty except for some sounds like “l” and “th”.

  • use simple sentences with three and four words.

  • use fuller and more complex sentences with a growing speech fluency.

  • have difficulty taking turns in conversations and change topics quickly.

  • take turns in conversations and interrupt less frequently and listen to others speak.

  • like simple finger plays and rhymes and learn words to songs with lots of repetition.

  • remember lines to simple poems and can tell and retell stories with practice and enjoy repeating poems and songs.

  • ask many who, what, where, and why questions but show confusion in responding to some questions like why, how, and when.

  • use nonverbal gestures such as facial expressions and show skill in using conventional modes of communication complete with pitch and inflection.

  • use language to organize thought but overuse such words as but, because, and when to link two ideas together.

  • like to act out others’ roles and show off in front of new people or become unpredictably very shy.

Fine-Motor Development



  • place large pegs into pegboards and string large beads.

  • use scissors, computer keyboards and some tools such as hammers and screwdrivers unassisted.

  • build block towers and easily do puzzles with whole objects represented as a piece.

  • build at least three-dimensional block structures and do 10-15 piece puzzles.

  • undress without assistance but need help getting dressed.

  • zip, button, tie shoes with help and dress quickly.

  • hold crayons or markers with fingers instead of the fist.

  • have basic grasp of right and left, but mix them up at times.

  • draw circles and begin to design objects such as a house or figure.

  • draw people and print recognizable letters; print first name.

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Developmental Characteristics of Children Ages 4-6



The child...

The child needs...

Adults should...

  • Is extremely active, fatigues easily; often shows fatigue by being cross or restless.

  • Physical activity, frequent rest periods; opportunities to use energy.

  • Plan individualized and group activities which alternate quiet and active periods; anticipate problems; plan for free play; plan for ample running games.

  • Is restless; tires of doing any one activity for an extended period of time.

  • Activities requiring different levels of concentration and types of involvement.

  • Vary grouping patterns; allow schedule flexibility; prepare interesting, short “extras”; plan frequent play periods.

  • Is developing small muscle control more slowly than large muscle coordination.

  • A variety of movement and mani­pulative experiences.

  • Provide individual and group acti­vities involving large and small muscles; begin with exercises and rhythmic activities good for the whole body; limit time spent on activities requiring fine eye-hand coordination.

  • Is physically flexible and resilient; skull bones remain soft.

  • Activities that are appropriate to developed skills of coordination.

  • Plan activities suited to the range of motor capabilities within the class; set clear limits to behavior in games and activities; provide class supervision.

  • Is becoming more skilled at motor tasks; girls often have higher skill levels.

  • Motor tasks suited to personal skill level.

  • Plan for a variety of activities with different demands on coordination; avoid boy versus girl comparisons or competitions.

  • Is more interested in manipulation and movement than in product produced or ideas involved.

  • Opportunities for active participa­tion.

  • De-emphasize relative quality of finished product; avoid compari­sons; provide activities which do not always result in a product; don't insist on perseverance or completion of all activities; ask questions to extend the value of the activity.

  • Is quite likely to be far-sighted; focusing on small objects is grad­ually becoming easier.

  • To avoid eye strain.

  • Plan activities requiring a mini: mum of close visual scrutiny (e.g. copying from chalkboard); eliminate very small objects if magni­fication is not provided; insist on books with slightly enlarged print.


The child…

The child needs ...

Adults should...

  • Demonstrates a decided preference in handedness

  • Practice in refining small muscle control.

  • Offer a variety of activities requiring the use of the small muscles for both the writing and nonpreferred hands; avoid insisting on handedness.

  • Is capable of most self care.

  • Opportunities to demonstrate independence.

  • Plan activities to develop self care skills as needed; encourage the sharing of learned skills between peers; allow children to assume as much responsibility for themselves as possible; discuss the rules related to good health.

  • Is self-contained; self-sufficient.

  • Experiences to support a growing sense of independence.

  • Appreciate each child's warm uninhibited nature and reciprocate in the same manner; provide sufficient encouragement, ample praise, warmth and patience; plan for a variety of child-selected activities.

  • Eagerly explores social relationships.

  • Experiences to support personal interest and initiative.

  • Trust in children's desire to want to learn; plan ample child-selected activities; provide firm limits but freedom within limits.

  • Seeks attention of peers and adults; likes to be first.

  • Recognition; acceptance; status within group; positive satisfaction of needs.

  • Give affectionate attention to each child daily; provide individual help and attention as needed; provide sufficient activities so that each child can have a turn; use equitable techniques in daily routines (e.g., helper selected in alphabetical order); provide time for sharing experiences.

  • Expresses feelings openly; disagreements are of short duration.

  • Opportunities for successful peer interaction; security.

  • Encourage awareness of other children's feelings; state expectations and limits clearly; make limits reasonable; guide child to help maintain control as necessary; supervise closely as situations can deteriorate rapidly.

  • Is imaginative.

  • Interaction with ideas and lan­guage of peers; experimentation with roles; help with irrational fears.

  • Provide simple props and time for imaginative play; allow children to face fears through observing others; provide verbal support; provide security in daily schedule by using simple, clear routines; draw distinction between reality and fantasy with stories, films, music, etc.


The child…

The child needs...

Adults should...

  • Is becoming aware of personal sex role.
  • To avoid occupational stereotypes.
  • Make all activities available to both boys and girls; refer to people as persons (e.g., salesperson); discuss occupations as being open to both men and women.
  • Is generally aware that others have rights; physical aggression may be used to settle disputes.
  • The attention of peers.
  • Encourage peer interaction and self-esteem by using positive reinforcement in the settling of quarrels; set clear limits to behavior; intervene only when necessary; redirect behavior; isolate to lessen stimulation as needed; accept child, not behavior.
  • Is usually eager to conform to social expectations.
  • Adult approval.
  • Limit choices as necessary; provide supervision (continuous).
  • Is likely to change friends rapidly; social groups are flexible.
  • Work and play in small group settings.
  • Provide many individual and small group activities; identify isolates (using e.g., the sociogram); aid children in making friends if necessary; reorganize playgroups as necessary.
  • Often seeks immediate gratification; experiences difficulty in making too many decisions.
  • Reasonable opportunities for decision making.
  • Limit choices as necessary to allow assuming responsibility without undue pressure.
  • Organizes learning through sensory experiences; learns best through active participation.
  • Sensory input.
  • Provide concrete learning experiences that require active, direct participation.
  • Continues to acquire information, labels.
  • Opportunities to enrich repertoire of experiences and vocabulary.
  • Plan varied experiences and opportunities to explore environment, gain information, and share ideas with others; use stories, pictures, films, trips, TV, etc. to expand experiences; provide accurate labels for objects and experiences.
  • Thinks mainly in the present; thinking is limited to actual experiences.
  • Varieties of learning experiences.
  • Provide an environment rich in experiences to stimulate interest; base instruction and discussions on experiences.
  • Is curious about environment; imaginative; inventive.
  • Information; opportunities to explore.
  • Plan times for self-directed activities; allow flexible use of materials.
  • Is responsive, easily distracted.
  • Minimum interference when absorbed in learning tasks.
  • Plan large blocks of time, which allow for absorption, completion of tasks; use centers to focus attention and limit stimuli.
  • Is talkative
  • Acceptance; practice in self-expression; opportunities to talk as well as listen.
  • Encourage the use of listening skills in total group, small group and individualized activities; support “sharings” with the full attention of adults to encourage good listening habits.
  • Is interested in the present and immediate; is interested in knowledge that is practical and accurate; asks questions that are purposeful and relevant.
  • Answers to questions.
  • Relate all experiences to what is already known; answer questions simply and discuss, hen stimulate further thinking; reply “I don’t know” when appropriate and help child find answers to questions.
  • Uses varied sentence patterns; articulates clearly; possesses a vocabulary adequate to express thoughts.
  • Opportunities to elaborate language and refine verbal skills; to hear and use language in many ways.
  • Encourage verbal exchanges; model correct grammar and usage; with self-expression.
  • Imitates adult behavior and interests (e.g., hobbies, books, and reading).
  • Exposure to a variety of models.
  • Encourage the participation of a number of different adults and older children in classroom.

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Bright from the Start:
Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
(formerly the Office of School Readiness)