Your young child’s development year-to-year
3 to 4 Year Olds
Thrilling Threes & Fours!
Carousel is pleased to bring you the fourth article in our series celebrating your young child’s marvelous ages and exciting developmental stages!
Every few weeks we’re focusing on a specific age group to explore the amazing things that are happening in your child’s body and brain—be sure to catch all the articles in the series.
Though we specialize in 0-3 years, Carousel Teaching System®, our exclusive curriculum, is designed to grow with your child and address the particular needs of every stage–to advance language development, inspire curiosity, and cultivate joy in learning.
We have captivating programming and exquisite learning materials for school-age children as well as babies and toddlers—and tailored tutoring available for kids right up through the teen years.
Today, we’re taking a close look at your Thrilling 3- to 4-Year-Old!
Pat yourselves on the back, parents. You made it through those terrific–and, okay, maybe just a little bit “terrible”–Twos.
Your child is entering a really special stage of development. This preschool age is often called the “Magic Years.”
Over the next two years or so, your child will mature in all the major developmental areas–social-emotional, physical (both gross and fine motor skills), cognitive, and language.
But perhaps most exciting of all, these years are about imagination. 3- and 4-year olds live rich fantasy lives, in which they use and practice many of their new skills.
Here are some exciting milestones to look for in 3- and 4-year olds.
Remember that every child grows and develops in their own way, on a unique timeline. If you’re ever concerned about your child’s progress speak to your pediatrician.
Your 3-to 4-year-old is becoming more affectionate and demonstrative with loved ones. She’s a little copycat, imitating the behavior of parents and friends.
She displays a wide range of emotions. She’s also developing empathy, starting to understand that other people have their own thoughts, feelings, desires, likes, and dislikes; and also that her actions can affect how others feel. She shows concern if someone is crying or upset. She also grasps “mine” vs. “his/hers,” and knows how to cooperate and take turns.
Separations from mom and dad are becoming easier, but big changes in routine may be distressing.
At 3, your child is becoming a better listener. He can follow instructions with 2 or 3 steps. He can answer simple questions and carry on a conversation of a few sentences. He can say his name and age. He speaks in phrases of 5 to 6 words, and by 4 years, in complete sentences. He’s speaking much more clearly, and by 4, can be understood by strangers. During this phase his vocabulary includes 250-500 words.
3- and 4-year-olds are extremely inquisitive. Research shows that children in this age group may ask 200-300 questions a day! They ask “WHY?” constantly. Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? Why does the dog have fur?
They also frequently say “why?” in response to their daily routine and things you ask them to do.
Time to put on your pajamas! Why?
Because we’re going to bed now. Why?
Because you need to go to sleep. Why?
Because you’re very tired. Why?
You’ve had a big day! Why?
You went to school and the playground, and had dinner with Grandma. And now it’s nighttime…Why?
Because the sun went down, it’s dark outside. Why?
And so on.
All those questions can be exhausting, but your child’s curiosity is natural and healthy. He’s full of wonder and is expressing genuine interest in the mysterious, amazing world around him, gathering information that helps him make sense of things.
Try to stay engaged, even if you’re tired of answering questions. It can be helpful to turn the question around sometimes, and ask your child,
Why do you think the kitty purrs? Why do you think you have to take a bath? This helps your preschooler develop critical thinking skills.
It’s also ok to admit when you don’t know the answer; find out together! This lets him know that learning is joyful, exciting, and fun; it empowers him to seek knowledge, and models the importance of staying curious for a lifetime.
Remember, too, that your child just loves to connect with you. Preschoolers crave social interaction. Their questions are a way of keeping the conversation going.
At this stage, your child can put together simple puzzles with a few pieces, name common colors, sort objects by shape and color, compare sizes; she understands same and different, and knows basic time concepts such as morning, afternoon, night.
He can turn the pages of a book one at a time, hold a pencil and draw a person with several body parts. He can copy the shape of a circle, build a tower of at least 4-6 blocks, rotate a door handle, take the lid off a jar—using thinking and problem solving skills as well as fine motor coordination.
During this phase, children become good climbers and confident runners. They can go up and down stairs, alternating feet. They can throw, kick, and catch a ball, ride a tricycle, hop up and down on one foot or balance for a few seconds. They can dress and undress themselves…and they love to play dress-up!
Which brings us back to the rich imaginative life of 3- and 4-year-olds.
Preschoolers move beyond parallel play (side-by-side with others) and now engage with their peers. They collaborate with friends, and discuss the set-up for their dramatic play, but (especially at 3) may readily switch character, plot, and scene. They use dialog and incorporate feelings.
3-year-olds play pretend based mostly on their real lives and experiences–cooking in the kitchen, packing a suitcase and going on vacation, shopping, setting up a classroom with friends or toys to act out teacher and students.
It is also very common for 3-year-olds to have an imaginary friend who goes about the day with them.
By 4, a child’s imagination expands further beyond realism and into fantasy. They become more detailed in their imaginative play—getting fancier with props and costumes, using more involved plots and dialog. They love action and high drama, pretending to be characters from books or television, with lots of noise and physicality (especially boys).
At the same time, they are learning to distinguish between real and imaginary, and may indicate that they’re “just pretending.”
Imaginary play is very important! Your child is learning to problem-solve, communicate, empathize, collaborate, cooperate, express emotions, make choices, and more. Their creativity is being nurtured.
Enjoy these Magic Years!