Every child's development is unique and complex. Although children develop through a generally predictable sequence of steps and milestones, they may not proceed through these steps in the same way or at the same time. A child's development is also greatly influenced by factors in his or her environment and the experiences he or she has. The information in this guide explains what child development experts consider to be "widely-held expectations" for what an average child might achieve within a given year. Please consider what you read in the context of your child's unique development.
Below is a snapshot of this year. For more in-depth information click on the specific areas of development in the menu at the left.
When it comes to learning, four-year-olds are developing greater self-control and ingenuity. Their pretend play is more complex and imaginative and can be sustained for longer periods. They can also make plans and complete tasks. Four-year-olds want to try new experiences. They also want to be more self-reliant and seek to expand the areas of their lives where they can be independent decision-makers.
The language skills of four-year-olds expand rapidly. They begin communicating in complex and compound sentences, have very few pronunciation errors and expand their vocabularies daily. They can follow multi-step directions and understand explanations given for things they can see. Four-year-olds frequently initiate conversations and are less likely to change the subject of conversation to areas of personal interest. They are also getting better at sharing personal experiences without prompts from adults.
Four-year-olds are building their knowledge of written language. They want to know what words in their environment say and can recognize many letters. By the end of this year, many children understand that letters represent the sounds in spoken words and may associate some letters with their sounds. Most children also are capable of writing some legible letters and know that writing goes from left-to-right and top to bottom.
Four-year-olds have an increased capacity for learning math concepts. They use logical reasoning to solve everyday problems and can effectively use language to compare and describe objects and shapes. They can count to "ten," recognize written numerals "0" to "9" and add and subtract using numbers up to "four." Four-year-olds know some variations of a circle, square, triangle and rectangle. They know days of the week, months and the seasons, but still cannot tell time.
Children this age can engage in long periods of active play and exercise. They are skillful at walking, climbing, jumping, hopping, skipping, marching and galloping. They also are better able to throw, catch, kick and bounce balls. Improved finger dexterity allows them to hold writing tools with a more mature, tripod grip. Advances in hand-eye coordination help four-year-olds do puzzles, play with toys that have small parts and dress and undress without assistance.
Four-year-olds approach the world with great curiosity and use their imaginations to help understand it. Hands-on explorations help them to separate reality from fantasy. They can participate in the planning and implementation of simple scientific investigations and over the course of the year, will increase their abilities to make observations, gather information, compare data, identify patterns, describe and discuss observations and form explanations and generalizations.
Emotionally, four-year-olds continue to learn what causes certain feelings and realize that others may react to the same situation differently. They have learned to better manage intense emotions with coping strategies like talking it out or drawing a picture. Four-year-olds also show further progress in their social interactions with peers, such as by smoothly joining in a group play situation, being sympathetic to others, or suggesting ways to resolve conflicts.
In exploring the creative arts, children this age can identify changes in pitch, tempo, loudness and musical duration. They can sing songs of their own creation as well as memorized ones. Their art begins to be more realistic and may incorporate letters. Four-year-olds love to dance and are able to move rhythmically and smoothly. Their dramatic play is highly imaginative and now has the structure of specific scenarios, like going to the grocery store or rescuing a cat stuck in a tree.