our everyday life

Stages of Development of a Preschool Aged Child

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

You can breathe a sigh of relief now that the "terrible twos" phase is (mostly) behind you now that your little one has graduated to the preschool period. Three-to-5-year-olds develop and mature in a number of areas as they prepare for the big leap into kindergarten. Preschool-kids love to tackle new challenges, as they test their physical, behavioral, and emotional limits, explains HealthyChildren.org a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


A 3-year-old is becoming quite the little wordsmith, because he may speak up to 500 words -- including his first name -- and even more in some cases. He is also able to put three to four words together to make a coherent sentence, A 4-year-old speaks more clearly and not only will you understand her words, strangers will also. She has a basic understanding of grammar and has close to 900 words under her belt. A 5-year-old can speak more than 2,000 words, explains the Child Development Institute. Since a 5-year-old loves to tell long stories, his ability to use complex and compound sentences comes in handy. An older preschooler approaching kindergarten can recite his first and last name, and his address.

Social and Emotional

A young preschooler gets a charge out of imitating his parents and other children. A 3-year-old doesn't mind when he is separated from mom or dad for a time. A 3-to 4-year-old is very inquisitive and loves to try new experiences; she's a mostly cooperative playmate who thrives on make-believe play, explains the AAP. Children at this age may not be able to separate reality from fantasy. Friendships become increasingly important when the preschool years wind down. A 5-year-old enjoys playing simple boardgames that require taking turns and following rules. Her independence and confidence continues to grow; she might stop by a next-door neighbor's house for a visit by herself.


Three to 4-year-olds make significant cognitive strides.They may recognize some numbers now that they comprehend the concept of counting. They also know what it means to say that something is the "same" or "different," and they are more aware of what time is. For example, your preschooler may get your drift when you say, "We'll go to the store at noon and have lunch at the mall." By age 4, a preschooler can follow three-part instructions like, "Go into the kitchen, grab a banana and bring it to me." A 5-year-old has a better handle on the concept of time, and is learning to "tell time" He uses his vivid imagination to make up stories, and he can easily count to 10. The typical 5-year-old can copy geometric patterns like triangles, rectangles and squares.

Motor Skills

A 3-to-4-year-old can walk up and downstairs by herself; move forward and backward in a sprightly manner, and can run, kick, climb and ride a tricycle. At this age, a preschooler can throw a ball overhand, and can catch a bounced ball more times than not. Most 3-to-4-year kids can stand on one leg for up to five seconds. A 5-year-old can outperform his slightly younger peers by standing on one foot for 10 seconds. Learning to swim and learning how to ride a bike may also occur at this age. The typical 3-year-old has the dexterity to build a tower of at least nine blocks and turn book pages one at a time, explains the MayoClinic.com. A 4-year-old can use child-safe scissors. By age 5 a preschooler brushes his own teeth and can use a fork spoon and (dull) table knife with proficiency.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images