• Tip Sheet

3 to 5 YEARS

At this age, kids build skills that prepare them for school and life. Their bodies, brains and feelings are continuing to develop as they explore their world. Their learning develops into different subjects, like math and science, as they prepare for kindergarten.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Get dressed, brush their teeth, use the toilet, and wash their hands without help from adults.
  • Encourage them to show independence in basic tasks to care for themselves, helping when necessary (e.g., brushing teeth, wiping nose, dressing, using the toilet, washing hands, and feeding themselves).
  • Walk, run, hop, gallop or balance on one leg.
  • Make physical activity a big part of their daily life and provide space and equipment for them to play.
  • Make sure they are safe and properly dressed for the weather and specific activities.
  • Engage in activities that enhance hand-eye coordination, such as using eating utensils, dressing themselves, building with blocks, creating with clay or play dough, putting puzzles together, and stringing beads.
  • Show them how you use drawing and writing tools in your daily activities (e.g., making a grocery list).

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Make friends and learn how to help, share, take turns, and resolve problems.
  • Show them how to interact with others (e.g., take turns playing with a certain toy).
  • Provide opportunities for kids to understand and discuss their feelings and those of others.
  • Help kids see the effect of their behavior on others and help them resolve conflicts.
  • Begin to control their impulses and feelings better.
  • Follow simple rules, routines, and directions.
  • Make cozy, safe places where children can be alone if they wish.
  • Establish, explain, and model simple rules (e.g., a bedtime routine) in basic terms they can understand.
  • Express a range of emotions appropriately, such as excitement, happiness, sadness, and fear and avoid disruptive, aggressive, angry, or defiant behaviors.
  • Show and talk about ways to appropriately express emotions (e.g., dancing or exercising until out of breath, using pounding toys, manipulating play dough, talking to an adult).

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Use a greater variety of words when they speak to express ideas and events.
  • Introduce new words and concepts by naming what they are doing and experiencing.
  • Have conversations and ask them open ended questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" response.
  • Follow two-step directions. (For example, they can follow simple directions like "Go to the closet and get your coat so we can go outside.")
  • State directions clearly, positively, and respectfully. If it seems like they need help, show them what the directions mean and provide help if needed.
  • Share their ideas and experiences in small groups.
  • Describe experiences and retell simple stories.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" response.
  • Give them opportunities to tell stories or describe events and provide prompts as needed for encouragement.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Handle books respectfully and appropriately.
  • Look at pictures, ask questions, and talk about pictures and information in a story.
  • Visit the library.
  • Read to them often for fun and to help them learn new things.
  • Ask questions about the stories you read together. For example, ask, "What do you think will happen next?" or "How do you think [character] felt when…?"
  • Act out and retell stories using props such as puppets.
  • Recognize the difference between words that sound similar, words that rhyme, and words that start with the same letter.
  • Recognize the letters in their own name or know many letters of the alphabet.
  • Provide magnetic letters and alphabet blocks, stamps, books, and puzzles.
  • Explore letters through physical experiences (e.g., use alphabet cookie cutters or pasta alphabets, make letters out of your bodies on the floor).
  • Point out letters in familiar names and signs.
  • Recognize that printed words connect to their world and daily life.
  • Point out signs and labels in the home, neighborhood, or store.
  • Call attention to a variety of printed words, such as in books, newspapers, magazines, menus, and cereal boxes.
  • Use shapes, symbols, and letters to express ideas.
  • Encourage their interest and attempts to copy or write letters and their name.
  • Encourage them to use markers, crayons, and pencils.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Think through problems and try to solve those problems in different ways.
  • Ask them questions that apply to real problems and talk with them about different approaches to solving problems (e.g., It is cold outside and I see you only have one glove. What should we do so your hands stay warm?).
  • Encourage them to think through how to solve problems, even if their solutions aren't right.
  • Pretend and make believe.
  • Encourage them to pretend, such as using sofa cushions or blankets to make a "cave".
  • Offer new props to encourage pretend play.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Count, group, and sort objects by size, shape, color, or other similarities.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to count, group and sort objects. For example, encourage children to group and sort toys when cleaning up (e.g., all the blocks, all the soft and hard animals).
  • Understand directions about how things relate to each other such as, "Please put a fork by each plate."
  • Help organize toys by pointing out concepts such as "in," "on," "under," and "beside."
  • Create patterns using art materials and other objects (e.g., weaving, painting, stringing beads, and building blocks).
  • Point out naturally occurring patterns indoors and outdoors.
  • Introduce songs with evolving patterns (e.g., "Bingo" where children clap to substitute additional letters with each verse).

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Ask questions and observe the living things around them, like bugs, plants or animals.
  • Provide opportunities to observe objects and events indoors and outdoors.
  • Ask questions and make comments that help children think about how they could learn more. For example, when observing how plants grow, ask, "What do you think will happen if…" or say, "Let's try to _____ and see what happens."
  • Observe nature and make guesses about natural events. For example they may explain how seeds grow, or how you should care for animals.
  • Encourage kids to ask questions and seek answers by exploring and thinking about what they see.
  • Express ideas in many ways using their imagination and creativity. They may draw stories or things that interest them.
  • Provide age-appropriate art materials, like different types of drawing tools, paper, and collage materials.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Identify how money is used.
  • Create play situations in which they exchange money for objects.
  • Describe things that happened to in the past, like a family trip last summer
  • Tell stories about things that happened to in the past

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Move to different types of music.
  • Offer different types of music and have them participate by clapping or playing musical instruments.
  • Provide them with examples of diverse music, including cultural examples and examples in their community and home.
  • Create drawings based on familiar stories and topics.
  • Use different types of art materials (e.g., paints, paper, markers, crayons, boxes, clay, and plastic containers) to help them retell a favorite children's book.
  • Play pretend for longer periods of time.
  • Encourage them to pretend by using props such as dress up shoes, pots and pans, and stuffed animals to act out stories and real-life experiences that will get them to think about different roles and scenarios.

Kids This Age May:

How You Can Help Them Develop:

  • Talk about wanting to learn about a lot of different topics.
  • Share their excitement in discoveries and learning.
  • Help them explore and learn more about their neighborhood and community.
  • Show them how to be curious and how to find information. Act curious yourself.
  • Play with other kids and take turns.
  • Provide opportunities and role model how to play with others. Practice asking for a turn, asking how long it will be until they can have a turn, and listening to friends.

Videos: 3 to 5 YEARS

3 year old milestone video.
Used with permission, Minnesota Department of Education.

4 year old milestone video.
Used with permission, Minnesota Department of Education.

5 year old milestone video.
Used with permission, Minnesota Department of Education.

Note: It is important to arrange for regular health and developmental exams with a health care provider. These are usually part of a well-child visit and can include vision, hearing and oral health screenings.

Questions? Concerns?

The Guidelines describe how a typical child develops but it is important to understand that each child learns and develops at his or her own individual pace. Since each child is different, caregivers should talk with a health care provider or other trusted professional about any questions or concerns. For more information about questions or concerns you may have, please contact us.