Preschoolers come in all shapes and sizes, but preschooler development at 3-5 years typically has a few things in common. Here’s what your preschooler might be doing, how you can help and when to see a child health professional.

Child development at 3-5 years: what’s happening


This is an important time in your preschooler’s emotional development.

During this year your child really starts to understand that her body, mind and emotions are her own. She knows the difference between feeling happy, sad, afraid or angry.

Your child also shows fear of imaginary things, cares about how others act and shows affection for familiar people. And as he gets more confident, he’ll also get better at handling his emotions.

Playing and learning

Play is important because it’s how your child learns and explores feelings.

Your child is now more interested in playing and making friends with other children. She might start to play more cooperatively in small groups. She understands the concept of ‘mine’ and ‘his/hers’, so sharing starts to get easier.

Your child is becoming more imaginative during play. For example, he might play pretend games with imaginary friends or toys, like having a tea party with his toys. He’ll try different roles and behavior – for example, he might pretend to be a doctor or a parent. And at this age, it’s common for preschoolers to have although imaginary friend your child can probably tell the difference between real and fantasy.

By four, your child might enjoy tricking others and describing what happened – for example, ‘Mum thought I was asleep!’ At the same time, she’ll also worry about being tricked by others.


Your child’s language will develop a lot this year.

Your child will learn lots of new words by listening to you and other adults, as well as from her own experiences and from listening to stories. She’ll show more interest in communicating and might like to tell stories and have conversations.

Your child will understand most of what you say and might guess the words he doesn’t know. Generally, he’ll understand many more words than he can say.

Around three years, your child will use sentences of 3-5 words, or even more. Other people will understand what she’s saying most of the time. She’ll point to parts of pictures – for example, the nose of a cow – and name common objects.

By four years, your child will speak in longer sentences of around 5-6 words or more. Other people will understand him all the time. He understands most things you say and will follow instructions with 2-3 steps, as long as they’re about familiar things – for example, ‘Close the book, and give it to Mum’. He’ll understand adjectives like ‘long’ or ‘thin’, and use ‘feeling’ words like ‘happy’ or ‘sad’.


Your preschooler is fascinated by the world around her and will ask lots of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions. When it comes to understanding, your child knows about opposites like big/small and more/less and concepts like ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘under’.

Your child’s memory is developing. For example, he can remember nursery rhymes and might even repeat them back to you. He’ll also start to point out letters and numbers that he remembers and name them, and can count up to four objects and sort them by colour and shape.

Everyday skills

Your preschooler loves eating family meals together. She understands your family routine and appreciates special events, like birthdays.

Your child is also becoming more independent. For example, he can feed himself, put on shoes that don’t have laces, undo buttons and do a bit more for himself when he’s getting dressed.

Your child is probably toilet trained, and she might be able to do some daily hygiene tasks on her own, like going to the toilet, wiping poo from her bottom and washing her hands and face. But she’ll still need your help and supervision with tasks like brushing teeth.


Your preschooler loves moving and being active. He’s better at walking up steps, riding a tricycle, throwing, catching and kicking a ball, running, climbing, jumping, hopping and balancing on one foot.

When it comes to using her hands, your preschooler might be able to draw a circle or square, build big towers using blocks and use child-safe scissors. She’ll love using crayons, pencils and paintbrushes, which is great because drawing and painting build your child’s imagination.

Your child might also develop some new grass motor skills – for example, skipping, jumping backward or jumping while running.

Your preschooler’s fine motor skills are improving too. He can cut with child-safe scissors and write his first name and some letters. He might also be able to draw a circle and make detailed drawings of people with body parts and clothes.

At this age, your child might also:

*unscrew a lid from a jar
*know his own gender and age
*know the names of some shapes and colors
*hold a pencil and copy some letters by four years
*dress and undress.
*say his/her own name, address, and telephone or mobile phone number
*talk about events in the past, present and future – for example, know the difference between     things she has done, is doing and will do.

Helping child development at 3-5 years

Here are some simple things we can do to help your child’s development at this age:

  • Give your child lots of playtimes: play helps preschoolers express feelings like joy, excitement, anger or fear. Your child might like messy play in sand or mud, play with puppets or toys, or outdoor play with plenty of running, tumbling and rolling.
  • Make time for this might be painting, drawing or dress-up games. The music played is another idea – your child might like to dance, jump around or make music with simple instruments.
  • Reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes all encourage your child’s talking, thinking and imagination.
  • Do some cooking with your child: this helps your preschooler to get interested in healthy food, learn new words and understand maths concepts like ‘half’, ‘1 teaspoon’ or ‘30 minutes’. You can give her simple things to do, like tossing a salad or putting together sandwiches.
  • Play games with your child that involve learning to share and taking turns. When you play, say things like, ‘Now it’s my turn to build the tower, then it’s your turn’, or ‘You share the red blocks with me, and I’ll share the green blocks with you’. Sharing is still hard for children at this age, so give your child lots of praise when he shares.