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3 to 4 Years of Age

A child changes in significant ways between his third and fourth birthday. He walks more like a "big boy" than a toddler and has made a huge leap in understanding his world around him. A child under 3 will scribble when drawing a person but by the age of 4 will be skilled enough to draw a stick person.

It is usually during this year that children finally become potty trained. Provide reminders to use the bathroom for he is busy learning about his world.

It is normal for a 3- to 4-year-old to talk constantly and ask hundreds of questions. Please remember that your child is learning to speak from listening to you. From their earliest years, children acquire good grammar and a rich vocabulary.

The way children play changes significantly during this year. They learn cooperative play - working together to build a house in the sandbox or playing "family" with each child taking turns playing a different role. Disagreements will occur and sharing will come in the future. However, this is a time for your child to learn what kind of communication works and what doesn't when playing with his peers.

Keeping a child at this age busy and occupied is important. It may be helpful to keep a container with crayons, paper and small toys with you always.

Physical Development

Characteristic 4-Year Milestones:

  • Runs on tiptoes, hops on one foot, gallops, skips
  • Throws a ball, pumps self on a swing
  • Can dress self, unbuttoning, unsnapping and unzipping clothes
  • Can lace shoes, but not tie them
  • Uses silverware, knows table manners
  • Brushes teeth, combs hair, washes face and hands, and puts away clothes
  • Uses crayons, markers or pencils to make designs and crude drawings
  • Cuts paper along a line with a child's safety scissors

To stimulate development, you can:

  • Play follow the leader, tiptoeing, hopping, galloping and skipping. Pretend to walk like various animals.
  • Play hopscotch. Do balloon chases, keeping the balloon in the air by bouncing with hands.
  • Encourage your child to dress herself, assisting with difficult fasteners.
  • Guide your child in the use of his silverware and encourage appropriate table manners.
  • Develop grooming habits in your child. Teach him how to brush teeth, wash hands and comb hair.
  • Provide paper, crayons, markers, paint, paste and play dough for your child's experimentation and to enhance fine motor or muscle control.
  • Help her learn to use a child's safety scissors.

Intellectual and Language Development

Characteristic 4-Year Milestones:

  • Asks many questions especially "how" and "why"
  • Is very talkative, uses rather complex sentences
  • Experiments with silly words, may use profanity
  • Knows simple rhymes and songs, and enjoys books
  • Knows some numbers and counts, but not always in the right order
  • Understands concepts: tallest, biggest, same, more, on, in, under, above, behind, before and after
  • Knows colors and shapes. Can sort items by size, shape, color and similarity
  • Can learn full name, phone number and address
  • Lengthened attention span of 10 to 15 minutes

To stimulate development, you can:

  • Answer your child's many questions honestly.
  • Teach your child his first and last name, his parents' names, his phone number and address.
  • Read to your child, do finger plays, repeat simple rhymes and sing songs.
  • Encourage your child to make up stories and to add different endings.
  • Provide objects for him to sort and count such as buttons, seeds, socks, rocks, etc. Identify colors.
  • Play games to teach concepts: on, in, under, behind, beside, before, after, more, less, etc.
  • Help your child experiment with shapes by cutting sponges into different shapes. Let your child dip them into tempera paint and print the shapes on paper. Use several colors of paint.

Social/Emotional Development

Characteristic 4-Year Milestones:

  • Has vivid imagination, perhaps imaginary friends
  • Enjoys playing with other children, can take turns and share, but may be bossy
  • Can understand and obey the rules of a game, may make up or change rules as game progresses
  • Likes to assume adult roles of mother, father, mail carrier, bus driver, doctor, nurse, etc.
  • May tattle, name call, use shocking words and lie. Does not understand the concept of lying; imagination gets in the way of telling the truth
  • Is demonstrating independence by wanting to do things herself
  • Feels jealousy, frustration and anger
  • Likes to help with household chores

To stimulate development, you can:

  • Arrange opportunities for your child to play with other children. Be present to guide them.
  • Provide articles and materials so your child can play house, hospital, fire station or make a fort.
  • To help your child gain independence, let her make choices about what she wants to wear (the red shirt or the blue one), choices of one nutritious food over another (the banana or the orange).
  • Help your child understand and deal with anger and frustration, pay attention to his mood and calm him with quiet conversation or cuddling.
  • Let your child assist with household tasks.

Appropriate Materials

4-Year Old:

  • Pedal toys
  • Balls of various sizes
  • Crayons, markers, pencils, paper and paste
  • Child safety scissors, tempera paint and play dough
  • Picture books and story books
  • Cassette tapes and CDs with children's songs and audio books
  • Four- to eight-piece puzzles with large pieces
  • Matching games such as lotto
  • Items for dramatic play such as dress-up clothes, or props for grocery store, fire station or hospital. Blankets for making tents or forts
  • Dolls, stuffed animals and puppets
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