As children enter the preschool and kindergarten years, many exciting changes are happening with their development. They are slowly gaining more independence from you and starting to enjoy playing with friends. Don’t worry! They still need your support and love to guide them through all the new changes and environments they are experiencing. Moving beyond the toddler years can be exciting for you too, as your child becomes easier to travel with and a really fun playmate.
What Should My Child Be Able to Do
(by 5 years of age)
Milestones represent a general guideline of what your child should be able to do physically, socially, and mentally.
- Stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
- Hops and may be able to skip
- Can do a somersault
- Uses a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife
- Can use the toilet on her own
- Swings and climbs
- Wants to please friends
- Wants to be like friends
- More likely to agree with rules
- Likes to sing, dance, and act
- Is aware of gender
- Can tell what’s real and what’s make-believe
- Shows more independence (for example, may visit a next-door neighbor by himself–adult supervision is still needed])
- Is sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative
- Counts 10 or more things
- Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts
- Can print some letters or numbers
- Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes
- Knows about things used everyday, like money and food
- Speaks very clearly
- Tells a simple story using full sentences
- Uses future tense – for example, “Grandma will be here.”
- Says name and address
How You Can Help Foster Development
- Take your child on outings. At this age, children can benefit a lot from outings to educational places like a zoo, museums, or farms.
- Play games. Playing games that follow rules and involve both cooperation or competition can be fun for children at this age. The process of playing games will not only be fun but will help them gain skills in taking turns, sharing, and losing with grace.
- Engage in active pursuits. Children at this age often enjoy active pursuits like learning to ride a bike or scooter, playing catch, or outdoor games.
- Read in a new way. Reading to children is always good but now that they are a bit older, you can try asking them more questions about the story. You can even encourage them to predict what will happen next.
- Try interactive learning. Although young children can learn some through worksheets, their best learning happens through interactive play and hands-on activities. Encourage interactive learning by doing simple science experiments (you remember what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar?), nature exploration, puzzles, and building challenges.
Common Myths During this Period/What NOT to Believe
- Tantrums are over and will never happen again. Although children are leaving the toddler phase, tantrums and emotional outbursts are still not uncommon. Children 4 and 5 years of age have probably gained more self-regulation skills but can still sometimes become overwhelmed by emotion. Continue to model effective emotional regulation strategies like breathing, movement, and exercise as well as staying calm yourself. Also, be aware of factors that might contribute to meltdowns like overstimulation, changes in routine, or lack of sleep.
- Children should be starting to learn how to read. In many circles, it’s not uncommon for preschoolers and kindergarteners to be encouraged to begin reading. Although learning phonics and related literacy skills is important, reading itself does take a while for children to learn. Some children might pick up reading independently by age 5 but others not completely until age 7. Be patient. You can support the process of learning to read, but pushing too hard might just create a power struggle. Continue to read to your child and encourage them to read to you with books that are appropriate for their level. At first, keep their reading sessions fairly short so they will continue to be encouraged by their progress.
- Children need to be kept busy all the time. So the more activities, the better. Now that children of age 4-5 are so capable of so many things, it’s easy to want to sign them up for every activity possible. Enrolling children in a lot of extracurricular activities at this age is not necessary for their development. While they may be fun, children can still become overtired or overstimulated if involved in too many activities. Try to be mindful of allowing your child some downtime each day so they can play in an unstructured and unplanned way. Research continues to show that unstructured play is linked to strong executive functioning skills in children.
Common Challenges Parents Experience During this Period
- Deciding on a preschool or early learning environment.
One of the most difficult decisions for parents during this period is deciding which preschool or kindergarten to enroll their child. Types of early learning environments often vary widely depending on different philosophies of learning. One common trend seen in many countries is a movement away from play-based learning and towards a more academic-focused model of learning in these early years. Generally speaking, this trend is not based on the current research of how young children learn. Most developmental experts agree that a more play-based approach to early learning benefits children more. Play-based learning tends to be more intrinsically motivating, engaging, and effective in the long-term. Although children do learn in a more academic-focused environment, the early push towards worksheets, rote learning, and memorization often backfires, leaving the children unmotivated and unengaged by early elementary school.
If possible, consider enrolling your child in an early learning setting which prioritizes play as a crucial aspect of the learning process. This doesn’t mean that the children are left to play undirected or in a chaotic fashion. High-quality play-based learning settings require that teachers take an active guidance role in the play. This “guided play” approach is an ideal way for kids to maximize the learning potential of play.
- Separation anxiety
As children enter more formal education during this stage, it is not uncommon for them to experience separation anxiety. Even if they have attended daycare or were watched by other caregivers previously, new settings often mean new worries for young children. Separation anxiety can be challenging for both the child and the parents, but most children can work through it with consistent help from you. A few ideas that might help:
- Connection first. Try to establish a routine in which you have time to really connect emotionally with your child before they have to separate from you. That could include ideas like a special breakfast with you before school or listening to their favorite music in the car on the way to school. Anything that helps them feel connected to you can ease the transition.
- Special connection items. Some children like to feel connected with their parents throughout the day even if they are physically separated. A special connection item can help with this process. It could be a bracelet, a sticker, or a special note from you that they carry with them to school as a reminder that your thoughts are with them all day.
At ages 4 and 5, children are typically experiencing a whole new world of experiences outside of your home. With the beginning of more formal education, they are gaining independence and learning new things at an amazing rate. While this transition can be challenging for you and your child, it also opens the door for seeing your child with a new lens–a lens of opportunity and growth. You begin to get a small glimpse into the lovely, unique person they are becoming as they step outside into the world.