Most any parent or caregiver has likely found themselves wondering if the behavior their child is displaying is expected or not. Parents want to know if their children are on track and meeting major developmental milestones or if they’re behind and need extra help, but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s expected by which age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a guide to age-appropriate behavior from birth to age 5 which will help parents, teachers, and caregivers. So, what’s age-appropriate behavior for preschoolers? Are tantrums normal? Is it expected that they’ll push boundaries and do things you’ve told them not to do? Pretty much. But there’s a lot more to it.
What type of behaviors are age-appropriate for a child between ages 3 & 5? Kids will develop, practice, and refine these skills during their preschool years. The skills change more from 3 to 5 than during the toddler years, so we’ll break them out further.
Social and Emotional Behavior
At age 3, you’ll likely see these behaviors
Social and Emotional
- Shows concern when a friend cries
- Copies adult behaviors
- Takes turns when playing games
- Copies the behavior of friends
- Easily separates from mom and dad
- May get upset with significant changes in their routine
- Can dress and undress themselves
At age 4, you may see these behaviors
- Becomes more creative
- Likes pretend play
- Likes to play family or mom and dad
- Would rather play with other children than on their own
- Talks about what they’re interested in and what they like
- Struggles to know what’s real and what’s make-believe
At age 5, you may see these behaviors
- They want to be like their friends
- They want to please their friends
- They enjoy singing, dancing, and acting
- Know what’s real and what’s make-believe
- Shows more independence, still needs adult supervision but may be comfortable walking to a neighbor’s alone.
- Can be cooperative at times and then can also be very demanding
Children between 3 and 5 benefit from spending time with other kids; encourage your child to make friends and spend time with them. Set up playdates, visit the park, and have pretend play items for them to use at home.
Teaching how to manage and navigate emotions is very important for children in this age group, especially younger children. Help them by naming their emotions and responses. Teach them skills for managing and navigating emotions. In our Montessori Primary classroom, we see this every day. Kids are trying to navigate their world, and there are moments they upset one another. We work to resolve the conflict together by talking it out, addressing what happened, apologizing if we were the one who was at fault, and helping the children learn how to address these issues when they arise.
One of the most important things you can do is establish routine, set boundaries and rules and stick to them. Children in this age range feel comforted by the predictability of routine. It helps them feel safe when they know what to expect next. And be sure you’re consistent with punishment or redirection when they do things that aren’t OK with you. This is going to happen; it’s expected and age-appropriate.
In our classrooms, we try not to say no; we focus on empowering children to do what they can that’s safe and age-appropriate rather than telling them what they can’t do. Children are more likely to respond positively to a redirection than saying no. For example, if your child is running and you want them to stop, you can say, “walking feet please” rather than “no,” It reminds them and redirects them but without the word no, which can lead to defiance or other behaviors.
At Klein-Spring Montessori we set up our Primary classroom environment to have work that will appeal to children between ages 3 and 5 and help them learn and develop. You’ll find lots of books, art supplies, books to help with emotional learning, building blocks, and more. Children follow a routine and enjoy the predictability of their schedules. They also spend a lot of time outside and playing with friends.
Language development between ages 3 and 5
This is when a child’s vocabulary starts to take off, and they start talking a lot.
At age 3, your child may likely be able to
- Share their name, age, and whether they’re a girl or boy
- Name their friends
- Talk clearly enough that strangers can understand them most of the time
- Have a conversation with 2-3 word sentences
By age 4, you’ll likely see more development and behaviors such as
- An understanding of basic rules of grammar, including the use of he and she
- Sing or tell a simple story or poem from memory
- Tells stories
- Knows their first and last name
By age 5, you’ll often see the following
- Tells simple stories using full sentences
- Knows their first name, last name, and address
- Understands and uses the future tense
- Speaks very clearly
In our Montessori Primary classroom environment, we work hard to help children develop their language skills daily. We speak to them in full sentences and encourage correct grammar. We read books regularly and have lots of them around the classroom. We teach phonics sounds and work on letter recognition, so they’re ready when it’s time to start reading in the future. As parents, one of the most beneficial things you can do is read to your child as often as possible. Let your child pretend to read to you by looking at the pictures and telling you what’s going on, or ask them what they think will happen next to encourage reading comprehension; it will help in elementary school.
Cognitive Behavioral milestones for ages 3-5
By age 3, your child will likely be able to
- Can use buttons, toys with levers, and moving parts
- Plays make-believe with dolls or toy animals
- Builds a tower of 6 or more blocks
- Can screw and unscrew things or turn door handles
By age 4, you’ll likely see your child
- Naming some colors and numbers
- Starting to understand the concept of time
- Using scissors
- Drawing a person with 2-4 body parts
- Remembers parts of a story
- Can flip the pages of a book one at a time
By age 5, you’ll likely expect to see your child
- Counting 10 or more things
- Drawing a person with 6 body parts
- Can print some numbers and letters
- Understands things used daily such as food or money
Children in this age range benefit from working on arts and crafts, learning to zip, Velcro, button, and more to work on their dexterity. They also learn how to hold scissors and cut. Our Montessori Primary program is created with these milestones in mind. The classroom is child-led, so they can focus on what interests them the most and learn and develop new skills at their pace.
You can help encourage your kids at home by letting them make simple decisions, things where there is no wrong answer – which of these two shirts do they want to wear to school, do they want the blue crayon or the green crayon, ask about your child’s day, talk about what was good and bad, have dance parties with their favorite music. Answer your child’s questions and be honest; if you don’t know the answer, find out what the answer is and let them know. Treat them with respect if you want them to treat others with respect.
Finally, what are the physical milestones for ages 3-5?
At age 3, your child can likely
- Pedal a tricycle
- Walk up and down the stairs
At age 4, your child can likely
- Hop and stand on one foot for up to 2 seconds
- Catch a bounced ball (most times)
- Pour, cut with supervision, mash foods
At age 5, your child can likely
- Stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
- May be able to skip
- Do a summersault
- Use a fork and spoon, maybe a knife
- Swing and climb
- Use the toilet without help
In our Montessori Primary classroom, we have works that specifically help children with these physical or movement-based milestones. Children have tricycles and climbing structures on the playground; they have balls to play with friends and plenty of space to try out new skills such as balancing, hopping, or skipping. They learn to be independent with their toileting as well. They also learn to use silverware at mealtime.
What can you do to help your child learn these skills and behaviors at home? Involve your child in kitchen prep and have child-sized tools so they can use them with ease. Have your child set the table. Encourage them to play with friends. Take them to the park and let them play, teach them how to pump their legs to swing, and have playdates and outings to areas that interest your child, such as the kid’s museum or zoo. Spend time together, play, talk, listen to them, and build that bond that will help with much more than just hitting milestones.