Preschoolers Activities

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Preschoolers develop at an astonishing rate! Here's some advice on what to expect as a parent and what you can do to help your preschooler grow socially, intellectually, and emotionally.

Children 3 to 5 Years Old

What to Expect

Between their third and fourth birthdays, children:

  • Start to play with other children, instead of next to them;
  • Are more likely to take turns and share and begin to understand that other people have feelings and rights;
  • Are increasingly self-reliant and probably can dress with little help;
  • May develop fears ("Mommy, there's a monster under my bed.") and have imaginary companions;
  • Have greater large-muscle control than toddlers and love to run, skip, jump with both feet, catch a ball, climb downstairs and dance to music;
  • Have greater small-muscle control than toddlers, which is reflected in their drawings and scribbles;
  • Match and sort things that are alike and unalike;
  • Recognize numerals;
  • Like silly humor, riddles and practical jokes;
  • Understand and follow spoken directions;
  • Use new words and longer sentences;
  • Are aware of rhyming sounds in words;
  • May attempt to read, calling attention to themselves and showing pride in their accomplishment;
  • Recognize print around them on signs or in logos.
  • Know that each alphabet letter has a name and identify at least 10 alphabet letters, especially those in their own names; and
  • "Write," or scribble messages.

Between their fourth and fifth birthdays, children:

  • Are active and have lots of energy and may be aggressive in their play;
  • Enjoy more group activities, because they have longer attention spans;
  • Like making faces and being silly;
  • May form cliques with friends and may change friendships quickly;
  • Have better muscle control in running, jumping and hopping;
  • Recognize and write the numerals 1-10;
  • Recognize shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles and triangles;
  • Love to make rhymes, say nonsense words and tell jokes;
  • Know and use words that are important to school work, such as the names for colors, shapes and numbers; know and use words that are important to daily life, such as street names and addresses;
  • Know how books are held and read and follow print from left to right and from top to bottom of a page when listening to stories read aloud;
  • Recognize the shapes and names of all letters of the alphabet and know the sounds of some letters; and
  • Write some letters, particularly those in his own name.

What Preschoolers Need

3- to 4-year-old children require opportunities to:

  • Play with other children so they can learn to listen, take turns and share;
  • Develop more physical coordination-for example, by hopping on both feet;
  • Develop their growing language abilities through books, games, songs, science, math and art activities;
  • Develop more self-reliance skills-for example, learning to dress and undress themselves;
  • Count and measure;
  • Participate actively with adults in reading-aloud activities ;
  • Explore the alphabet and print; and
  • Attempt to write messages.

4- to 5-year-old children need opportunities to:

  • Experiment and discover, within limits;
  • Develop their growing interest in school subjects, such as science, music, art and math;
  • Enjoy activities that involve exploring and investigating;
  • Group items that are similar (for example, by size, color or shape);
  • Use their imaginations and curiosity;
  • Develop their language skills by speaking and listening; and
  • See how reading and writing are both enjoyable and useful (for example, by listening to stories and poems, seeing adults use books to find information and dictating stories to adults).
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