Developmental Overviews of Three-Year-Olds, Four-Year-Olds, and Five-Year-Olds
Three-year-olds have broadened their view of the world. Their ideas of time and place have undergone interesting transformations. They are beginning to grasp the complexities of their social world and to recognize the difference between real and pretend. Typical questions include "Where do birds sleep at night?" "Were there dinosaurs when you were a baby?" and "Are the people on television real or pretend?"
For these children, the past is divided into the immediate past, yesterday, last week and last month, and a long time ago, such as when their parents were young. The future is divided into tomorrow, soon, and "when I get big." Although they may not know the names of the seasons, 3-year-olds are beginning to make the relevant associations. They might remember summer as when it's hot and you go on vacation and fall as when the trees turn color, when you go trick-or-treating, and when you watch football on television.
Space, like time, is also divided into categories. Some places are near and you can walk to them. Some places are too far to walk. Some places are really far away, like Africa and the moon. There are also categories of people, such as children, teenagers, people who are old and work at jobs, and people who are very old and don't do much at all. Things can be living or not living, people and animals can be alive or dead, and things can be real or pretend.
By age 3, the turbulence of the "terrible two's" has passed and a quieter child emerges. The 3-year-old is able to focus on a task for several minutes and to interact in a positive way with other children. By 3 years, children have expanded their repertoire of emotional responses. They can be sad or pensive. They can be jealous, wary, or frightened. They can be contented, jolly, or exuberant. They are also more tuned in to the feelings of others. Pleasing adults is becoming increasingly more important, and receiving praise or affection is becoming a powerful reinforcer. Although 3-year-olds are less apt to throw temper tantrums than 2-year-olds, their behavior can disintegrate when they are tired or hungry.
Four-year-old children are becoming increasingly aware of themselves as members of a peer group. Much of their day is spent establishing and maintaining their position with peers. Children who are 4 years old use their growing facility with words to praise or to criticize and correct other children, to call attention to their own accomplishments, and to convince a group to adopt their ideas. Four-year-olds are interested in playing with other children and will use threats and promises to win a friend or gain entry into a group. Remarks like "I'll be your best friend" and "I won't be your friend" are frequently heard in a preschool.
Out on the playground, 4-year-olds require plenty of space. They enjoy all varieties of play and are particularly fond of "monster" and "superhero" play.
Although 4-year-olds are learning to take turns and share toys, arguments over possessions take place continually. Frequently, disputes that begin verbally end with a push, a punch, or a skirmish. For the most part, the children do not really hurt each other in these skirmishes, but providing adult supervision is an important safeguard.
Four-year-olds love to learn new things, like pumping a swing, naming all the dinosaurs, counting up to 20, and playing games on the computer. They believe in what they see, hear, and touch. If a 4-year-old thinks his glass looks like it contains less juice than a friend's, then the friend has more juice, even if the juice was poured from two same-sized cans. If a 4-year-old heard a monster make growling noises under the bed, then there is a monster under the bed, even though his father says it's just his imagination. Four-year-olds are very curious, and their favorite word is likely to be why.
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