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Developmental milestones: Ages 3 through 5

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By Joyce Destefanis, M.A. , Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Readiness Skills

"Young, heck! That's what Mom told me about school — I'm too young to go to kindergarten. I'm going to be five in two weeks! That's not too young," Jimmy had told his mother.

She replied that she wasn't talking about being just five years old. She said that he was a "young five."

"Whatever that is!" thought Jimmy.

Mom explained that there were things he still needed to learn before he went to school.

"What things?" asked Jimmy.

"Like sit and listen," said Mom.

"I can sit and listen when I want to. Why do you have to sit and listen to something you don't like anyway?" Jimmy wondered.

Mom had said it was OK to stay home and just go to preschool until kindergarten. She told him that not all five-year olds do everything at the same time. Maria can draw and write numbers and letters and cut with scissors, but Jimmy was just beginning to do those things.

He told her that he could run, jump, and stand on his head better than Maria could. Mom said that was great, but in school they want you to sit in a chair and write and cut and paste. That made him very, very sad, and he cried a little. Mom hugged him and told him that he was just fine and soon he'd be able to do all the things that Maria could do.

"Look at all the wonderful things you can do," she said. "You build great castles in the sand and amazing objects with Legos. You tell wonderful stories, and you listen very carefully when I read books to you. And you're a super joke teller." Mom always laughs and laughs at Jimmy's funny jokes.

She told him that next year would be a fun year, and he would grow and learn a lot. In preschool, she called it pre-kindergarten to make him feel better, he'd learn all those things that he'll need to know for kindergarten. She said she would help him with the alphabet and numbers and writing at home. She said he already knew his colors and shapes and that he uses grown-up words when he talks.

"Mom is always telling me all the things I can do. That makes me feel good. I know she really loves me!"

And Finally...

Remember that these milestones represent averages, not rigid developmental deadlines. Children move through these changes at varying rates, some sooner, others later. You're the best judge of your child's development and what is "normal" for him, but if you have any concerns, discuss them with your child's pediatrician. Just when you think you've figured out your child, something changes. Today he demands constant attention; six months from now he may be pushing you away. You may find strategies that once worked no longer have any impact on him. Don't worry, this is normal!

Comments from readers

"I printed this out to take into my granddaughters preschool. They wanted her tested for autism. Her mother was hysterical! She is very bright, creative and loves to sing......she isn't austic.....she is three, she will be four in July. She has a 6 year old sister. "
"This has helped with my child study! And lots of my class!! Thank you!! "
"Very helpful with my child study. :) "
"This was an AWESOME article for me (a Mother of two children) to read. My Son's almost 15yrs. old and my Daughter is 3.5yrs old. Needless to say, but the 11 year difference in their ages can be very trying for Mama and Papa!! Not only that, but when my Son was a baby I read everything I could get my hands on to help me be a great 1st time Mother. Now, this amazing article helped me become more informed about knowing what my 3yrs old is thinking. Thank you! Sincerley, Heather B. "
"My daughter is 2.5 years old and can read a bit, do simple arithmetic and speaks in sentences like these: "Mommy, I am about to lose my patience! I said I wanted to watch TV BEFORE breakfast not after!". She has been potty trained since she was 15 months old. This article has made me realize that I need to ensure my little girl is properly stimulated and not bored. Thank you. "
"I think it is time for me to talk to the pediatrician to see what is wrong with my son. He will be 6 in December and only exhibits some of these traits. He starts kindergarten in the fall, and I am afraid that he is going to be labeled "remedial" from the beginning. Teachers in a small area like this give up on those kids very quickly, and school becomes a chore. I am concerned that he's going to end up hating school because it is difficult, or because he is behind the other children "
"this has really helped me with my college childcare assignments. thankks!!"
"This website helped me so much with a research assignment for my Child Care class, thankyou!!"
"Thanks for this. I'm a Filipina mom of 4year 10mos old boy, he's already in kindergarten or preparatory in the philippines. we've been told that he's younger for his grade level. but most of the 4year olds to 5year olds milestones are already exhibited by him. I'm initially worried that he will have a hard time in the writing and reading part in school, but he is a very eloquent speaker though! This is definitely a great read! :-) "
"very helpful for my child study coure work"
"very helpful for my childcare class"
"are you kidding me?!??!!?!??! veryyyy helpful :)))"
"i think this article is important in the sense of many parents do no tknow the stages their child should be going through what is normal and what needs work.This article helped me know the social and emotional norms for the ages 3-5 years of age.very well done thanks for the help"
"i used this site to do a research paper at help remarkably so thank you!!!"
"This site has helped me a lot with a two-page paper I had to write. I knew most of this, but somethings I hadn't learned yet, and it was very useful! I'm going to be a in a special program at my highschool to be a pre-school teacher this year, and this gives me greater insight to what to look forward to. Thanks so much."
"well i am a school counselor and articles like this genuinely help in understanding children in better way and help me to guide parents and teachers."
"This site is fully sick, The makers should be proud. GreatSchools helps me to do my schoolwork in no time at all and it is so easy to use. My Brain Development Project is done thanks to GreatSchools"
"I am studying Certificate 111 In Children's Services at TAFE and this has helped a lot with one of my assignments which is a developmental profile of a focus child. Thank you!"
"Thank you. Gives a quick glance at the child's insight. Very useful article!"
"I am really concerned for my son and his development at school. He's in Pre-school because his birthday is November 9th. At the parent-teacher conference we were told that he's doing great but as far as the curriculum there was nothing left for him to learn. I was also advised by a teacher to stop pushing him to learn mor which i don't push. He has an older brother who reads and does homework and he wanst to do the same things. I have Pre-school & Kindergarten workbooks, and he has mastered the Pre-school and thinks there boring. He even did the work independently and finished the pages correctly. A close friend in his class turned 5 in mid-October and was moved to a kindergarten class and my son was so upset that he didn't go and he keeps talking about it. I don't know what to do because I as told that there are no exceptions made to move a child to another class but it was done for the girl. He is beginning to read by sounding out letters, can right his first & last name, ! does simple adding up to 10 fingers, ties his shoes, rote count, identifies and writes all 26 alphabets,writes numbers, knows his colors and shapes, knows opposites, big & small, patterns, story order sequence ( 1ST, 2ND, Last) and cuts weel to be a lefty. I'm TRULY STUCK. Now he's becoming disinterested in school except for the days he just feels like playing. I don't know what else to do? I'm not going to 'Slow Him Down' as was reccommended. Do you have any suggestions?"