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Child development milestones: 3-5 yrs

Little girl drawing
Credit: iStock.com/SolStock

From ages 3 to 5 children learn some physical independence. They begin to dress, feed and toilet themselves while also beginning to develop social skills and make friends.

They will talk constantly and ask many questions as cognitively their attention span increases and their understanding of stories, and relationships between numbers and objects grows.

The Australian Government's Early Years Learning Framework Practice Based Resources - Developmental Milestones provides guidance through a range of milestones. All children are unique however, and the milestones should be considered guidelines. Parents shouldn't be concerned unless their child displays one of the criteria under which it is recommended that they seek advice. 

Goodstart Early Learning Queensland Regional Manager Deon Hemberg says sustained shared thinking happens during regular reciprocal conversations between carers or families and children.

“Show genuine interest, tune in and listen carefully and encourage children’s curiosity. Being with friends is what children enjoy, encourage children to negotiate share ideas and become aware of different perspectives,” Deon says.

Recognising and naming children’s emotions helps them understand self and others.

Physical    

  • dresses and undresses but still needs a little help
  • hops, jumps and runs with ease
  • climbs steps with alternating feet
  • gallops and skips by leading with one foot
  • transfers weight forward to throw ball
  • attempts to catch ball with hands
  • climbs playground equipment with increasing agility
  • holds crayon/pencil etc. between thumb and first two fingers
  • exhibits hand preference
  • imitates variety of shapes in drawing, e.g. circles
  • independently cuts paper with scissors
  • toilet themselves
  • feeds self with minimum spills
  • dresses/undresses with minimal assistance
  • walks and runs more smoothly
  • enjoys learning simple rhythm and movement routines    

Social    

  • enjoys playing with other children
  • may have a particular friend
  • shares, smiles and cooperates with peers
  • jointly manipulates objects with one or two other peers
  • develops independence and social skills they will use for learning and getting on with others at preschool and school    

Emotional    

  • develops respect for feelings
  • understands when someone is hurt and may attempt to comfort them
  • may show stronger preference for particular playmates
  • becomes independent and assertive
  • likes to give and receive affection 
  • may praise themselves and be boastful    

Cognitive  

  • understands opposites (e.g. big/little) and positional words (middle, end)
  • uses objects and materials to build or construct things, e.g. block tower, puzzle, clay, sand and water
  • builds tower eight to ten blocks
  • answers simple questions
  • counts five to ten things
  • has a longer attention span
  • talks to self during play - to help guide what 
  • follows simple instructions
  • follows simple requests and enjoys helping
  • may write some numbers and letters
  • engages in dramatic play, taking on pretend character roles
  • recalls events 
  • touches objects to count - starting to understand relationship between numbers and objects
  • can recall and tell  a recent event or story
  • copies letters and may draw some unprompted
  • can match and name some colours    

Language    

  • speaks in sentences and use many different words
  • answers simple questions
  • asks many questions
  • tells stories
  • enjoys talking and may like to experiment with new words
  • takes part in conversations
  • enjoys jokes, rhymes and stories
  • will assert self with words    

Seek advice if the child:    

  • is not understood by others
  • has speech fluency problems or stammering
  • is not playing well with other children
  • is not able to have a conversation
  • is not able to go to the toilet or wash him/herself