All parents want to make sure their children are hitting their developmental milestones, which tells them their child is growing healthily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Developmental milestones are things most children can do by a certain age. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (like crawling, walking, or jumping).”
According to the CDC, as a child progresses to the early childhood years, her world will start to open up and widen. “They will become more independent and begin to focus more on adults and children outside of the family. They will want to explore and ask about the things around them even more. Their interactions with family and those around them will help to shape their personality and their own ways of thinking and moving.”
Your preschooler’s developmental milestones (3 to 5 years old)
While not all kids develop at the same pace and may exhibit accomplishments that are different from other kids, these developmental milestones can serve as a baseline to help parents track their child’s growth — and know when something is wrong.
The CDC cites the following milestones most children are expected to be able to achieve by the time they are in the preschooler stage (between 3 and 5 years old):
- Able to ride a tricycle
- Use safety scissors
- Notice differences between girls and boys
- Help in dressing and undressing themselves
- Play with their peers
- Recall a part of a story
- Sing a song
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has listed several developmental milestones usually achieved by children in the preschooler stage. They divided it into five different categories.
Milestones in movement
- Hop and stand on one foot for up to five seconds
- Go up and down the stairs with no assistance from a guardian
- Kick a ball forward
- Throw a ball overhead
- Catch a ball most of the time
- Move forward and backward with agility
Milestones in hand and finger skills
- Draw and copy square shapes
- Draw circles
- Draw a person with two to four body parts
- Use scissors
- Start to copy some capital letters
Milestones in language
- Understand the concepts “same” and “different”
- Master some basic rules of grammar
- Speak in five- to six-word sentences
- Speak clearly enough that strangers understand her
- Tell stories
Milestones in cognition
- Name some colors correctly
- Understand the concept of counting and know some numbers
- Approach problems from a single point of view
- Start to understand time more clearly
- Follow three-part commands
- Recall parts of a story
- Understand the concepts “same” and “different”
- Engage in fantasy or imaginary play
Milestones in social and emotional development
- Show interest in new experiences
- Cooperate with other children
- Play “Mom” or “Dad”
- Become more creative and inventive in imaginary play
- Dress and undress herself
- Negotiate solutions to conflicts
- Be more independent
- Imagine that unfamiliar images may be “monsters”
- View herself as a person with her own body, mind, and feelings
- Frequently unable to distinguish reality from fantasy
Again, each child develops a different pace, so it is also difficult to pinpoint how or when a child will master certain skills exactly. According to the AAP, if your child displays any of the following signs, you might have to reach out to your pediatrician, as these can signal that your child is experiencing a developmental delay for his age.
- Unable to throw a ball overhead
- Unable to jump in place
- Unable to ride a tricycle
- Unable to grasp a crayon between her thumb and fingers
- Unable to stack four blocks on top of one another
- Unable to practice self-control (lashing out when she is upset or angry)
- Unable to copy a circle
- Difficulty with scribbling
- Clinging or crying whenever her parents leave
- Showing no interest in interactive games
- Ignoring other children
- Resisting activities like using the toilet, dressing, and sleeping
- Not responding to people who are not part of her family
- Not engaging in fantasy or imaginary play
- Not speaking sentences with more than three words
- Not using “you” and “me” appropriately
How to help your child at the preschooler age
There are many ways for you to help in ensuring the healthy and stable development of your little one. The CDC suggests, first and foremost, continuing to read to your child and providing her with plenty of reading material. Allowing her to assist at home by doing simple age-appropriate chores is another thing you can do to further develop her newfound skills.
When your child is in the presence of other children her age, encourage her to play with them as this will help her learn and appreciate having friends and sharing with her peers. Speak to her in full sentences and don’t be afraid to use “grown-up” words that she might not necessarily understand yet. Don’t forget to also help her how to use certain phrases and words properly.
In disciplining your child, the CDC recommends being clear and consistent. “Explain and show the behavior that you expect from her. Whenever you tell her no, follow up with what [she] should be doing instead.”
Finally, allowing your child the chance to make simple choices for herself — such as what she wants to wear for the day, when she wants to play, and what she wants to eat for a snack — can help hone her cognitive development further.
The CDC also emphasizes the importance of taking measures to keep children safe, especially as they are starting to become more independent and to spend more time outdoors. First, take the time to talk to her about not playing out in the street or running after balls that might end up outside of your house, as well as the importance of staying out of traffic. When letting her go biking, remember to have her wear a helmet and to keep her on the sidewalk at all times, where she is safe from the street.
When you take her to your community playground, check whether the equipment there have any sharp edges or loose parts. Keep your eye on her at all times while she is playing. The same goes for when you take her to a pool or an area where there is a nearby body of water. Even if she might know how to swim, make sure she is always watched by you or a guardian you trust. One more reminder to keep in mind is to teach your little one how to stay safe when she is around strangers.
When traveling in a vehicle, remember to keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness. When she becomes too big for the car seat, the CDC suggests having her travel in a booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
Finally, the CDC provides a few reminders for parents to ensure their children’s health. These include eating with their kids whenever possible (so they will see you enjoying healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, both as meals and as snacks), limiting screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day (and making sure they access high-quality programming), and giving their kids age-appropriate toys and play equipment and allowing them to choose when they want to play and what they want to play with.