What Should a 3- to 4-Year-Old Be Doing?

Reviewed on 6/29/2021

developmental milestones for 3- to 4-year-olds
Learn about developmental milestones for 3- to 4-year-olds and how you can help their progress

If you have survived the toddler years, you may be wondering what to expect with your preschooler. Your child will continue to grow and develop during these next few years in important ways both physically and emotionally.

While each child is different, your 3- to 4-year-old will likely reach the following developmental milestones.

Developmental milestones for 3- to 4-year-olds

Physical development (including motor skills)

  • Hops in place
  • Stands on one foot for at least 2 seconds
  • Climbs and descends stairs by placing one foot on each step
  • Kicks, throws, and catches a ball
  • Runs faster with improved balance
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Bends over without falling
  • Dresses and undresses without your assistance
  • Holds and handles small objects easily
  • Turns pages of a book
  • Stacks 4 or more blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids
  • Turns rotating handles
  • Draws a picture of a person, complete or incomplete

Communication skills (language and speech)

  • Says their first name, last name, and age
  • Knows and speaks more than 250 words
  • Answers simple questions
  • Speaks in complete sentences that contain 5-6 words
  • Recites a poem or sings a song from memory
  • Tells stories

Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, and problem-solving) 

  • Recognizes some colors and names them
  • Knows numbers and counting
  • Begins to understand time of the day (morning, afternoon, night)
  • Remembers parts of a story
  • Plays board or card games
  • Starts following instructions
  • Differentiates between objects by their shape and size (can recognize whether something is big or small)
  • Completes age-appropriate puzzles
  • Identifies common objects and pictures with their names

Social and emotional skills

  • Shows interest in learning and doing new things
  • Becomes more creative
  • Becomes more social (plays with other children)
  • Starts adjusting to other children
  • Imitates parents and people close to them
  • Shows affection for familiar people, including family and friends
  • Experiences a sense of belonging (whether something is “mine” or “theirs”)
  • Shows varied emotions such as being happy, sad, excited, irritated, angry, or bored

What can you do to help your 3- to 4-year-old child’s development?

Your child will go through developmental stages at their own pace. Here are things you can do to help your little’s journey:

  • Engage your child in a variety of creative and artistic activities.
  • Give your child freedom to choose clothes or games for themselves.
  • Allow your child to dress themselves and brush their own teeth (although you may need to supervise a bit since they may not brush thoroughly enough).
  • Repeat with them when they recite a poem or sing a song.
  • Read aloud to your child every day.
  • Teach your child how to be considerate of others’ feelings and how to avoid hurting others.
  • Restrict screen time to an hour or less. Children who are 3 years or older should not watch much TV.
  • If you do allow TV time, watch high-quality programs together that you can use to explain things happening in the outside world.

When to be concerned about your child’s development

If you notice that your toddler is lagging behind in skills they should have developed by this age, you can alert your pediatrician. Watch for signs that your child:

  • Cannot hop in place
  • Cannot express many words clearly
  • Stays aloof and doesn’t respond to people outside the family
  • Shows no interest in retelling their favorite story
  • Does not follow your simple commands
  • Does not use “me”, “you” and “their” correctly
  • Starts losing previously acquired or learned skills
  • Has problems with fine motor skills such as holding a crayon and gripping things.

Your pediatrician can evaluate your child and may perform a few screening tests to check if there is any developmental delay or abnormality.

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References
Important Milestones: Your Child By Four Years. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-4yr.html

Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Developmental-Milestones-3-to-4-Year-Olds.aspx

Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-3yr.html

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