Since birth, you’ve been on the lookout for key developmental milestones, such as first rollover, first sitting upright, first words, first steps. You’ve noted height, weight, and head size. And perhaps you’ve compared all of these developmental milestones to the “norms.” The preschool and early school years are also full of developmental changes. From ages three to five, your child’s motor skills, language, thinking, and social development will all change dramatically.

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns to discuss with a pediatrician or trusted teacher. Here are some key milestones to watch for this year.

Developmental milestones for 4-year-olds

Motor development: gross motor skills

  • Running is more controlled; can start, stop, and turn
  • Turns somersaults; hops on one foot; gallops
  • Can easily catch, throw, and bounce a ball
  • Can brush teeth, comb hair, wash, and dress with little assistance

Motor development: fine motor skills

  • Copies crosses and squares
  • Prints some letters
  • Uses table utensils skillfully
  • Cuts on a line

Language and thinking developmental milestones for 4-year-olds

  • Uses a 1,500-word vocabulary; speaks in relatively complex sentences (“Mommy opened the door and the dog ran out.”)
  • Understands words that relate one idea to another — if, why, when
  • Continues to learn through experience and the senses
  • Understands, mostly, the difference between fantasy and reality
  • Understands number and space concepts — more, less, bigger, in, under, behind
  • Thinks literally; starting to develop logical thinking
  • Begins to grasp that pictures and symbols can represent real objects
  • Starts to recognize patterns among objects — round things, soft things, animals
  • Grasps the concepts of past, present, and future but does not understand the duration of time

Social and emotional development for 4-year-olds

  • Takes turns, shares, and cooperates
  • Expresses anger verbally rather than physically
  • Can feel jealousy
  • May sometimes lie to protect herself, but understands the concept of lying
  • Enjoys pretending and has a vivid imagination

Tips for parenting 4-year-olds

Silly, imaginative, and energetic, your child loves to try new words and new activities.

  • 4-year-olds crave adult approval. Provide lots of positive encouragement.
  • Display calendars and analog clocks to help your child visualize the concept of time.
  • Play word games to develop his growing vocabulary; overlook his fascination with bad words.
  • Offer opportunities for sorting, matching, counting, and comparing.
  • Provide lots of play space and occasions to play with other kids.

And finally… a note on typical 4-year-old development

Remember that these developmental milestones represent averages, not rigid 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!