North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

How is Your Child Doing?

When a child is born, parents have access to books, pamphlets, health care providers and other resources that help them chart how the child is doing in physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

As children get older, parents tend to pay less attention to how their children are growing except when a problem is suspected.

Just as with babies, all preschoolers develop in different ways. If your child has a special person in her life who involves her in exercise, running games or some other physical activity, she will probably be ahead of other children her age in physical development.

A child who is cared for by someone who enjoys reading will tend to have better language development and cognitive skills. Oftentimes when children excel in one area, they seem to stand still in another area. When children develop and grow normally at their own pace they eventually tend to "even out."

What Age 3 is Like

Three-year-olds are generally fun to be with. They are struggling to be independent but enjoy the company of others while they try their best at the task at hand. They like to imitate adult behaviors. They may show concern and caring for children and occasionally remember their manners. Three-year-olds laugh willingly, join in, talk to others and know about sharing although they're not always willing to put it into practice. Fears may make bed-time difficult due to monster sightings, darkness and imagined wild animal attacks.

A 3-year-old may begin to play with other children for short periods of time and then return to playing "beside" the others, on his own. In his play, he enjoys blocks, drawing, puzzles, "real" dress-up clothes and other safe adult items.

In three short years she has learned the concepts of big and little, heavy and light, simple patterns, which items belong together and where some of her body parts are.

A 3-year-old can use his small motor skills to snip paper with scissors, draw and paint, and trace a simple shape. He can use his large motor skills to do forward somersaults, march to music, catch a bounced ball with two hands and balance for a couple of seconds on one foot.

Since "me too" is a popular phrase of 3-year-olds, use the cooperation to include them in simple tasks such as:

What Age 4 is Like

Generally speaking, you will have to look quick to see 4-year-olds since children this age are on the go. They spend a lot of time being loud and silly and persistent. Four-year-olds are working hard on their independence. Some shocking language may have crept into their vocabulary lately. The enthusiasm of this age comes through in endless talking, planning, remembering and very active imagining.

Physically a 4-year-old can pedal and steer wheeled toys, jump over small objects, throw a ball overhand, write some shapes and letters, and string small wooden beads.

Play time for this age is varied. They enjoy woodworking, clay, flannel boards with pictures, letters and numbers, and collage materials for creating their own art.

They enjoy some friends-only time with a minimum of adult supervision.

Strong feelings and fears may be acted out with dramatic play props such as doctor visits, fire emergencies and robbers.

Four-year-olds might be asked to put away their clean clothes, help fix a snack, put dirty clothes in the hamper or wipe up their own spills. Assign one task at a time and appreciate the effort even when the results are less than perfect.

What Age 5 is Like

Five-year-olds are emotionally calmer. They are sociable and count on friends for a great deal of their entertainment.

Special precautions need to be made because this year their quest for knowledge and experimentation along with their superhuman self-image make them prone to serious injury. Careful rule setting and monitoring are necessary but should not interfere with natural curiosity and growth.

Planks, boxes and other building materials are quickly turned into forts, palaces and homes. Puzzles with more pieces represent a welcome challenge. Simple card and board games are fun, but 5-year-olds still don't like to lose so cooperative games will work best. Musical instruments such as the xylophone, maracas and tambourine are great accompaniments to the songs they may sing.

A 5-year-old may lose a tooth, walk backwards heel to toe, catch a ball, cut coupons or pictures from magazines, bat a ball, skip, climb a slide, write numbers from one to five, and draw simple pictures that she first plans in her mind.

He may shock his parents when they first hear him say the days of the week in order, remember the date of his birthday, recite his address and phone number, and tell a simple story in order.

At this helpful age, children may be asked to pick up some specific toys in their rooms, empty the trash, help care for a family pet, load the dishwasher or unload the silverware, and start to care for their belongings like outdoor toys and bikes.


All children develop differently. If your child isn't doing everything mentioned on this page, there is no need for alarm. However, if you or your child care provider have a concern about your child's development, call North Dakota's Child Find at 1-800-472-2286.

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 6

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
This publication will be made available in alternative format for people with disabilities upon request (701) 231-7881.

North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service