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Child Development Tracker

Home » 4 to 5 »


Supporting Activities

Mister Rogers

Find pictures to tell a neighborhood story. My Neighborhood Story

Make a bookmark to show your love of books! Bookmark Art

Help your child write and illustrate a first book Book Brainstorm


Help your child create poems about favorite places. Poetry Places

Practice reading skills and learn a little Spanish. Rojo is Red

Reading and Language

See and hear how reading develops. Learning to Read

Books for Your Child

Reading to children every day is a great way for them to learn new skills. Here are some great read-aloud books for preschoolers.

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.

Phonological Awareness (awareness of sounds)

  • Increases conscious awareness of rhyme and beginning sounds, and becomes skilled in generating more words that rhyme or that begin with the same sound as a word spoken by an adult. By the end of this year, many children can easily generate a series of 4-5 rhyming words and name 4-5 words that begin with the same sound. They can also isolate the beginning and ending sounds in words, and can form words by blending initial consonant sounds with vowel and consonant sounds that follow (e.g., (sh--op) shop, (c--at) cat, etc.). Some children are able to use this awareness of sounds to create invented spellings of words they wish to write. For most children, it is easier to separate a single consonant from the beginning of a word than to separate consonant blends that begin a word (e.g., "fl-", "pr-", etc.).

  • Developing an awareness of sounds can be encouraged by frequent exposure to nursery rhymes, songs and poems that contain rhyming words, and by adults explicitly labeling these as "rhymes" for the child. Adults can also point out words that begin with the same sound, sound out words for the child, and play games with rhyming words and words that begin with the same sound.

  • Oral vocabulary size indirectly affects a child's ability to break words down into sounds and segments. A larger vocabulary requires the unconscious mental storage of words in segments when a number of words sound alike (e.g., slip, slap; clap, clip; string, strong). This apparently makes it easier for a child to develop a conscious awareness of speech sounds, and then detect and manipulate these in words.

Book Knowledge and Appreciation

  • By the end of this year, many children know that the names of the author and illustrator are on the cover of the book, along with the title of the book. Holds a book right side up based on knowledge of the proper positions for objects pictured.

  • During this year, many children pay attention to fairly long stories that are read skillfully with expression. Most children this age lose interest if a story is interrupted by questions from adults. Discussions are tolerated better after a story has been read.

  • Almost all children have memorized several, familiar, predictable text books, and can recite these, word for word, using pictures to prompt recall.

  • By the end of this year, many children can retell fairly long, familiar stories. They get events in order, and provide considerable detail. Organizing thoughts and summarizing are not yet highly-developed skills in most children this age. As a consequence, a child may go back and fill in details, and may take a while to formulate thoughts when retelling a story. In addition, children improve their abilities to predict what happens next in a story (using illustrations and prior knowledge as a guide). They also begin to understand the literal meaning of plays, poems, and stories and may act out stories in dramatic play.

  • Many children ask all kinds of questions, and make evaluative comments about characters' actions (e.g., "That wasn't very nice!"). Children become better able to respond to questions for which little information is provided by the text, and to which children bring less personal experience.

  • During the year, begins to connect specific authors with specific books, and to recognize multiple books by the same author.

  • Further development of appreciation of different kinds of books. Knows to seek out information in non-fiction books. By the end of this year, children have a good understanding of fiction and non-fiction, and of fantasy fiction versus realistic fiction.

  • Interest and enjoyment of books is highly variable, depending on availability of books and whether adults spend time sharing these with children in positive ways. May choose books from among things available to entertain self. Shows strong preference for familiar books when using books independently, but may also show interest in books that have not been read aloud. May request visits to the library to get books if library use has been encouraged by adults.

Print Awareness and Concepts

  • During this year, begins to base judgments about "wordness" based on specific graphic elements used, rejecting as words any string that contains anything other than letters. By the end of this year, most children know that numbers are not letters. Some children begin to see that space separates printed words. Many children know that there are two forms of each letter — uppercase and lowercase.

  • Many children begin to ask where in a book a word they have heard read aloud appears. They also ask what words in their environment say. When children attempt to read print they see in the environment, or pretend to read favorite stories, most follow lines of print by sweeping their finger from left to right and from top to bottom of a page, but do not point to individual words. By the end of this year, a few children use their fingers to point word for word as they read text in familiar predictable books.


  • Continues to improve the form of marks intended as letters. By the end of this year, most children can create some well-formed letters. Many children create good approximations to all uppercase letters. Overruns at the junctions of line segments, departures from the typical scale of various lines in a letter, and repairs due to a child's inability to plan for available space make writing look "immature" even though marks can be interpreted fairly accurately by adults and other children.

  • Many children begin to use lowercase forms of some letters in their writing, but they are often less well formed than the uppercase letters they can write.

  • By the end of this year, a few children continue to create letter-like designs, or mock letters, and do not regard this writing as "pretend." Most children do not use mock letters when they write "for real," although they do create such marks in pretend play.

  • For many children during much of this year, immature fine motor skills continue to place limits on the ability to write smaller versus larger, and to combine lines precisely. By the end of this year, many children can grip a writing tool with fingers in an approximation to a mature tripod grip, but some children do not.

  • Lack of knowledge of letters (visual images), and lack of experience in mark making, are now the major factors that differentiate children with considerable skill in creating designs that have the features of specific alphabet letters from children with less skill.

  • Most children begin writing left-to-right and top to bottom during this year, although they don't when they run out of space, especially on a small piece of paper. In such cases, they simply fit the writing in where there is space, without concern for where the letters should be.

  • Some children may put space in between words if they write a sentence or a phrase, but many children run one word into the next.

  • Expands understanding of the uses of writing. Children write stories, notes to friends, labels for displayed artwork, observations of science phenomena, and create print props needed for their play (e.g., tickets, menus, signs, grocery lists, information for "babysitters"). Demonstrates knowledge that writing is formatted differently for various purposes (e.g., organizes a list differently than a letter or a story).

  • Many children continue to string letters together to create mock words during much of this year. For a while during this year, some children write words they sound out by writing a letter for each syllable.

  • By the end of this year, some children understand that letters function to represent the sounds in spoken words. Many children can select an appropriate letter to represent a sound that an adult isolates in a word the child wishes to spell, especially if there is a letter name match.

  • By the end of this year, many children can write a few words correctly from memory (e.g., their name and the name of a close friend or two; and common words, such as No, Yes, Love, Mom, Dad, and Dear).

  • By the end of this year, a few children can isolate the beginning and ending sounds in words, as well as a dominant sound in the middle, and invent spellings for these words.

  • During this year, most children gain considerable skill in relating personal experiences for adults to write down. Most fictional stories that children compose orally are not plotted narratives, but rather a series of somewhat unrelated events without problems that are resolved. Children also develop skills in recording information they observe, such as in science explorations.

  • Developing the skills to compose messages is influenced by verbal interactions with adults that support the telling of recent personal experiences. Other influences include opportunities to draw pictures about recent experiences, chances to tell adults about their drawings and seeing adults writing about what they observe. Help children make their own observations and encourage them to write about what they see. Also, provide them with opportunities to experiment with different kinds of writing tools and materials such as pencils, crayons, and computers.

Alphabet Knowledge

  • By the end of this year, many children (60%) know more than half of the uppercase alphabet letters and 5-10 lowercase letters, some children (30%) know all uppercase and many lowercase letters, and a few children (10%) still know fewer than half of the uppercase letters. Children notice letters in familiar words and the environment.

  • By the end of this year, many children understand that letters function to represent the sounds in spoken words and may associate the names of some letters with their sounds. (They have acquired the insight known as the "alphabetic principle.") Also by the end of this year, most children understand that numbers are not letters, given that they function uniquely (i.e., are not used to represent sounds in words; are used to designate quantity). Highly similar lowercase letters (e.g.,"p" and "q," "b" and "d") are confused by many children.

  • Learning the alphabet can be encouraged by attending preschool, playing with alphabet letters and alphabet puzzles, having adults name letters and read alphabet books and watching educational television. Help children write their own names, if interested, and have plenty of writing and drawing materials available.

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