Development at 3-4 years

Personal and Social Skills    

Mixed race woman and daughter reading

  • Begins to play with other children
  • Shares toys and takes turns with assistance
  • Begins dramatic play, acting out whole scenes
  • Tests limits (when adult says “no,” child acts anyway to see if adult really means “no”)
  • Interprets reality to suit personal needs (“I don’t’ have to share because my brother doesn’t like cookies.”)
  • Develops sense of humor; tells silly jokes
  • Dresses, toilets, and eats with little help
  • May develop fears (of the dark, fire, animals)


  • Provide a safe, peaceful, supervised environment.
  • Set up cooperative play situations (kicking a ball back and forth; working with another child to “cook” and serve an imaginary meal to dolls or adults).
  • Help children solve social problems. (“Tell him you don’t’ like….)
  • Describe desired behavior and have consistent expectations for behavior. (“Please walk next to me when we are in the store.”)
  • Respond joyfully to child’s jokes.
  • Give child enough time to dress, toilet, and eat independently.

Language and Understanding Skills

  • Understands consequences of an event
  • Begins to understand time concepts
  • Recognizes and matches colors
  • Begins to classify and group objects (by size, shape, color)
  • Talks in short sentences and joins some sentences together
  • Sings, learns finger plays


  • Set limits on behavior and explain why they are necessary. (“Running into the street is not safe.”)
  • Use appropriate words to describe past or future events (today, tomorrow, before, after, next).
  • During story time ask child simple questions about the story.
  • Encourage child to sort and match objects during routine tasks. (“Which things do we need to take a bath?” where do the forks go? “What other things could you wear on your feet?”)
  • Teach child songs and finger plays.
  • Talk about sequence of events and tell what comes next.
  • Provide access to a computer with appropriate children’s software. Use it together.

Small Muscle (Fine Motor) Skills

  • Begins to draw people and animals, including head and some other body parts
  • Manipulates nontoxic modeling clay (making snakes and balls)
  • Stacks small blocks and names structure
  • Cuts with scissors
  • Completes simple puzzles (6 to 8 pieces)


  • Provide table toys (puzzles, beads, blocks).
  • Provide large sheets of blank, unlined paper.
  • Allow child to paint driveway with watercolors or plain water.
  • Offer a variety of writing utensils (paint brushes, markers, colored pencils, crayons).
  • Allow child to use materials independently-do not push child to “make” something.
  • Provide material for child to manipulate (nontoxic modeling clay, finger paint, shaving cream, sand).

Large Muscle (Gross Motor) Skills

  • Walks on a line
  • Balances on one foot for several seconds
  • Begins to hop on one foot
  • Throws a ball a few feet with one hand
  • Catches a bounced ball with two hands
  • Rides a tricycle independently
  • Uses a slide independently


  • Make obstacles course for child to maneuver through (over chairs, under table).
  • Play catch with a soft ball, increasing the distance gradually.
  • Play catch with balls and beanbags of various sizes.
  • Create a tricycle path with props such as stop signs and drive through windows.
  • Play Follow the Leader, including challenging movements.

Play music for dancing.