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Appendix A
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Preschoolers (2½ - 6 Years)

Preschoolers Development by Age and Domain      • By 3 Years of Age      • By 4 Years of Age
By 5 Years of Age      • By 6 Years of Age      • Atypical Development

Preschooler Development by Age and Domain:

Note: all domains are interrelated, for example “recognize and calm down to familiar gentle voice” in the Cognitive domain is also part of social, language and hearing development.

Note: All skills are listed by the age when most children should have accomplished them unless otherwise indicated. When observing a child between two ages refer to the younger age group (e.g., expect a four and a half year-old child to accomplish the skills listed for four years of age).

By 3 Years of Age
Expect the child to:

Social Emotional
  • Imitate adults and playmates
  • Greet friends and familiar adults when reminded
  • Be able to take turns in games most of the time
  • Understand concept of “mine” and “his/hers”
  • Share some of the time (e.g., toys, books)
  • Play with others comfortably
  • Cooperate with parent’s request half of the time
  • Put toys away
  • Ask for help
  • Possibly engage in aggression: instrumental (e.g., want something and pull it away from someone else or push or shout at someone to get it) or hostile (e.g., want something and deliberately hurt someone to get it)
  • Spontaneously show affection for familiar playmates
  • Show affection with words and actions
  • Be able to wait for his needs to be met some of the time
  • Object to major changes in routine
  • Express a wide range of emotions
  • Show awareness of own and other’s feelings
  • Begin to show an understanding of other’s feelings
  • Begin to describe himself as either “good” or “bad”. (This indicates that the child is beginning to develop self-esteem. In the preschool years self-esteem is primarily linked to feedback from caregivers.)
Language Cognitive
  • Understand two-and three-step directions (e.g., “Pick up your hat and shoes and put them in the closet”)
  • Understand and use some describing words like big, dirty, wet and hot
  • Understand “who”, “why”, “what” and “when” questions
  • Understand physical relationships (e.g., on, in, under)
  • Recognize and identify almost all common objects and pictures
  • Speak in five or more word sentences (e.g., “I go home now and play”)
  • Can say full name, age, and gender
  • Use pronouns (e.g., I, you, me, we, they) and some plurals (e.g., cars, dogs, cats)
  • Speak clearly enough to be understood most of the time by family
  • Name body parts
  • Talk about past events (e.g., trip to grandparents house)
  • Listen to music or stories for 5 to 10 minutes with caregiver
  • Turn the pages of a book one at a time
  • Be aware of the function of print (e.g., lists, menus, signs)
  • Begin to make over-regularization errors (e.g., I runned home; I have two feets); these types of errors continue into middle childhood
  • Make mechanical toys work
  • Match an object in his hand or in the room to a picture in a book
  • Play make-believe games with actions and words (e.g., “pretending to cook a meal, fix a car”)
  • Sort objects by shape and colour using two categories (e.g., all blue circles and all yellow triangles)
  • Complete puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Can use appropriate counting words to identify quantities of 3 or more
  • Ask a lot of questions
Gross Motor Fine Motor
  • Climb well
  • Walk up the stairs using the handrail
  • Run easily
  • Bend over easily without falling
  • Stand on one foot briefly
  • Throw a ball forward at least one meter (three feet)
  • Make vertical, horizontal, and circular strokes with pencil or crayon
  • Can copy a circle or a cross with a crayon
  • Hold a pencil in writing position
  • Turn book pages one at a time
  • String big beads
  • Build a tower of six blocks
  • Twist lids off jars or turn knobs
  • Work latches and hooks
  • Dress or undress with help
Nutrition Feeding
  • Have improved appetite and interest in food
  • Be influenced by TV commercials
  • May have food “jags” (e.g., refusal of one or two favourite foods over an extended period of time)
  • Eat a variety of foods according to Canada's Food Guide
  • Lift and drink from a cup and replace it on the table
  • Hold handle on cup
  • Insists on doing it “myself” (may not be common in all cultures)

By 4 Years of Age
Expect the child to:

Social Emotional
  • Be interested in new experiences
  • Take turns and share with other children in small group activities
  • Play near and talk to other children while continuing with own activity
  • Play “mom” or “dad”
  • Engage in increasingly inventive fantasy play
  • Look for adult approval (“Watch me.” or “Look what I did”)
  • Be more independent
  • Form first friendships
  • View self as a whole person involving body, mind, and feelings
  • Negotiate solutions to conflicts
  • Try to comfort someone who is upset
  • Use words to communicate empathic feelings
  • Persevere longer on a difficult task
  • Show improvement in emotional self-regulation (e.g., controlling expression of emotions); decline in emotional outbursts
Language Cognitive
  • Understand the concepts of “same” and “different”
  • Master some basic rules of grammar
  • Matches some letters with their sound (e.g., letter T says “tuh”)
  • Speak in sentences of five to six words
  • Speak clearly enough to be understood most of the time without repeating or stuttering on sounds or words
  • Speak clearly enough for strangers to understand
  • Say rhymes (e.g. cat-bat-hat) or sing children’s songs
  • Ask and answer a lot of questions (e.g., Why, What are you doing?)
  • Tell stories with a clear beginning, middle and end
  • Recognize familiar signs
  • Distinguish writing from non-writing
  • Correctly name some colours and numbers
  • Identify written digits up to 9
  • Count correctly to determine quantities of more than 10
  • Understand three-part related directions and longer sentences (e.g., “Put your toys away and wash your hands before lunch”)
  • Approach problems from a single point of view
  • Imagine that many unfamiliar images may be “monsters”; often have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality
  • Recall parts of a story
  • Understand the concept of same/different
  • Know his address
Gross Motor Fine Motor
  • Stand on one foot up to five seconds
  • Go up and down stairs alternating feet (e.g., with one foot on each step)
  • Kick ball forward
  • Throw ball overhand
  • Catch a large ball with outstretched arms
  • Move forward and backward with agility
  • Use the toilet/or potty during the day (e.g., toilet trained)
  • Hold a crayon or pencil correctly
  • Draw a person with three or more body parts
  • Snip paper with scissors
  • Draw circles, squares, crosses
  • Begin to copy some capital letters
  • Undo buttons and zippers
  • Dress or undress but may need help with closures
  • Twiddle thumbs
  • Build a tower of nine blocks
  • Manipulate and shape clay
Nutrition Feeding
  • Request favourite foods
  • May want favourite food at most meals
  • Eat a variety of foods according to Canada’s Food Guide
  • Prefer foods plain and not mixed together
  • Use a fork at mealtimes (use of utensils varies by culture)
  • Self-feed well using fingers, spoon or fork
  • Finish most meals

By 5 Years of Age
Expect the child to:

Social Emotional
  • Respond verbally to “hi” and “how are you”
  • Show more independence and may even visit a next-door neighbour by himself
  • Want to be like his friends
  • Talk about having a best friend
  • Usually play well in groups
  • Play make-believe games with others
  • Share willingly with others
  • Be more likely to agree to rules
  • Like to sing, dance, and act
  • Be aware of sexuality
  • Cooperate with adult requests most of the time
  • Work alone at an activity for 20-30 minutes
  • Separate easily from caregiver
  • Want to please friends
  • Recognize another’s need for help and give assistance
  • Identify and talk about feelings in relation to events
Language Cognitive
  • Understands directions involving “if…then” (e.g., “If you are wearing runners, then line up for gym.”)
  • Use future tense
  • Recall part of a story
  • Describe past, present and future tense
  • Tell long stories about own past experiences
  • Say name and address
  • Speak clearly in adult-like sentences most of the time
  • Use almost all the sounds of his own language with few or no errors
  • Understand that letters and sounds are linked in systematic ways
  • Count out loud or on fingers to answer “How many are there?”
  • Can solve simple addition problems up to 5 + 5 from memory or using fingers
  • Know common shapes and most of the letters of the alphabet
  • Have an improved ability in distinguishing fantasy from reality
  • Understand time of day and days of the week
  • Experiment with strategies to solve simple arithmetic problems
  • Know about things used every day in the home (e.g., money, food, appliances)
  • Begin to know that others have thoughts (e.g., “Mommy thinks I am hiding in the bedroom.”)
Gross Motor Fine Motor
  • Stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
  • Hop on one foot several times
  • Somersault
  • Swing, climb
  • Walk on a straight line, only stepping off once or twice
  • Stop, start, and change direction smoothly when running
  • Throw and catch a ball successfully most of the time
  • Climb playground equipment without difficulty
  • Usually care for own toilet needs
  • Walk backward, toe to heel
  • Draw lines, simple shapes and a few letters
  • Draw person with body
  • Use scissors to cut along a thick line drawn on a piece of paper
  • Dress and undress with little help
Nutrition Feeding
  • See food as an important part of social occasions
  • Prefer plain food, but will try some mixtures
  • Eat a variety of foods according to Canada’s Food Guide
  • Use fork, spoon, and (sometimes) a table knife (use of utensils varies by cultures)
  • Can open most food containers

By 6 Years of Age
Expect the child to:

Social Emotional
  • Play cooperatively with 2-3 children for 20 minutes
  • Apologize for actions he didn’t mean to do
  • Listen while others are speaking; pay attention and follow instructions in a group
  • Help others
  • Explain rules of a game or activity to others
  • Engage in better social problem-solving
  • Able to control emotions in most situations
  • Show empathy in most situations or when made aware of another’s feelings
  • Can wait his turn or wait to have his needs met
  • Can complete most tasks with few reminders
Language Cognitive
  • Understand some words about time and order (e.g., morning, afternoon, yesterday, next, last)
  • Correctly say almost all of the sounds in words
  • Identify sounds at the beginning of some words. (e.g., “What sound does pop start with? “puh”)
  • Recognize some familiar written words (e.g., own name, some store signs)
  • Recognize short, high-frequency words in text (e.g., the, in, on, is)
  • Tell about own experiences and ask about yours
  • Speak clearly enough to be understood by everyone
  • Pay attention and follow instructions in a group
  • Have a vocabulary of about 10,000 words
  • Copy shapes (e.g., circle, square, triangle) 
  • Solve simple addition and subtraction problems either from memory, using fingers or drawings
  • Know number words beyond 50
  • Use tokens to solve simple real-world problems (e.g., “if we have 6 cookies and 3 children, how many cookies can each child have, if they all share equally?”)
  • Learn more complicated games and play by the rules most of the time
  • Know right from left on own body
  • Be able to distinguish between fantasy and reality
  • Show an understanding of right and wrong
  • Demonstrate a more realistic understanding of space, size of objects, and distance in drawings
  • Demonstrate a more realistic sense of self by assessing their strength and weaknesses (e.g., I am a good runner, but I have trouble riding my bike”)
Gross Motor Fine Motor
  • Skip across a room
  • Walk on a beam without falling (e.g., curb)
  • Hop on one foot for 3 meters ( 10 feet)
  • Run lightly on toes
  • Jump rope
  • Ride a bicycle with or without training wheels
  • Catch a small ball
  • Cut out simple shapes following an outline (e.g., circle, square)
  • Tie shoelaces
  • Complete washroom routines without help
  • Skate
  • Print words and numerals
  • Colour within lines
  • Have an adult grasp of pencil
  • Use glue appropriately
Nutrition Feeding
  • Eat a variety of foods according to Canada’s Food Guide
  • Begin to use chop sticks (use of utensils varies by culture)
  • Able to open and close most food containers

Milestones taken from: Berk, 2008; Davies, 2004; DePoy & Gilson, 2007; Grenier & Leduc, 2008; Health Canada, 2007a; Health Canada, 2007b; Kent, 2005; Nipissing District Developmental Screen; Ollendick & Schroeder, 2003; Pelletier & Astington, 2004; Rourke, Leduc, & Rourke, 2006; Scannapieco & Connell-Carrick, 2005; Simmons, 1987 as cited in Wachtel, 2004; Shelov & Hannemann, 2004

Atypical Development

Although all children develop at their own rate, there are certain signs in a child’s development which may indicate more serious concerns. If any of the following signs of atypical development are noted in children in your care, these concerns should be discussed with the child’s primary health care professional. Subsequently, a referral to the appropriate specialist may be required (First & Palfrey, 1994; Shelov & Hannemann, 2004).
  • Age: three to four years
    • Cannot throw a ball overhand
    • Cannot jump in place
    • Cannot ride a tricycle
    • Cannot grasp a crayon between thumb and fingers
    • Has difficulty scribbling
    • Still clings or cries whenever his caregiver leaves
    • Shows no interest in interactive games
    • Ignores other children
    • Does not respond to people outside the family
    • Does not engage in fantasy play
    • Resist dressing, sleeping, using the toilet
    • Lashes out without any self-control when angry or upset
    • Does not use sentences of more than three words
    • Does not use “me” and “you” appropriately
    • Unable to draw a straight line - 3 years
    • Less than half of his speech is understandable - 3½ years
  • Age: four to five years
    • Exhibits extremely fearful or timid behaviour
    • Exhibits extremely aggressive behaviour
    • Is unable to separate from primary caregiver without major protest
    • Is easily distracted and unable to concentrate on any single activity for more than five minutes
    • Shows little interest in playing with other children
    • Refuses to respond to people in general, or responds only superficially
    • Rarely uses fantasy or imitation in play
    • Seems unhappy or sad much of the time
    • Doesn’t engage in a variety of activities
    • Avoids or seems aloof with other children and adults
    • Does not express a wide range of emotions
    • Has trouble eating, sleeping, or using the toilet
    • Seems unusually passive
    • Cannot understand two-part commands using prepositions (“Put the cup on the table”; “Get the ball under the couch.”)
    • Cannot correctly give his first and last name
    • Does not use plurals or past tense properly when speaking
    • Does not talk about his daily activities and experiences
    • Cannot build a tower of six to eight blocks
    • Seems uncomfortable holding a crayon
    • Has trouble taking off his clothing
    • Cannot brush his teeth efficiently
    • Cannot wash and dry his hands
    • Does not understand prepositions - 4 years
    • Cannot hop on one foot - 4 years
    • Unable to copy a square - 4 ½ years
    • Cannot count in sequence - 4½  years
    • Does not use proper syntax in short sentences - 5 years
    • Does not know colours or any letters - 5 years
    • Unable to walk a straight line back and forth or balance on one foot for 5 to 10 seconds - 5 years
    • Unable to copy a cross - 5 years
    • Does not know own birthday or address - 5 ½ years
    • 3 – 5 years:
      • in constant motion
      • resists discipline consistently
      • does not play with other children

If you are concerned about the development of a child, go to Local Information.