Childhood Development: 3 to 5 Years
At this age, your child believes that everything revolves around her. She is the center of her world. Her world is full of magic. Her imagination is working all the time. She is also learning to be a good companion to other children her age. Preschool, day care or playgroup provides a great opportunity for your child to learn appropriate social skills.
How your child eats:
  • Make eating fun to avoid "food jags" and pickiness by preparing food in fun shapes or with different dipping sauces (e.g. cheese spreads, yogurt, etc.)
  • Your child is capable of helping with some meal preparation such as: pouring cold beverages, mixing, breaking eggs, mashing potatoes, and squeezing juice.
  • Watch your child when he eats and avoid giving him foods that he might choke on. Examples include "hard to chew" food like steak, "small and round" food like hot dogs, grapes, peanuts, popcorn (hot dogs and grapes can be cut into strips), and "sticky" food like peanut butter (peanut butter can be mixed with plain yogurt to decrease stickiness).

How to care for your child's mouth:
  • Your child can use a small (pea-sized) amount of fluoridated toothpaste when brushing, but will need your help to floss and clean teeth completely (children may be more compliant when brushing and flossing with "fun" flavors like bubblegum).
  • Children should stop sucking their thumb by 4 to 5 years. Thumb sucking beyond this age is strongly discouraged because it can cause dental problems, calluses, infections and social teasing. Ask your pediatrician or dentist about how you can help your child quit this habit.
  • Your child should be seeing a pediatric dentist every 6 months.

How your child uses his hands (your child's fine motor skill development):
  • Your child will learn to hold his crayon better. Fat pencils and crayons help him to start drawing and pretend writing.
  • Your child will learn how to button his clothes and zip and unzip by himself.
  • Your child may offer to help with household chores. He may learn to pour liquid from a pitcher into a cup. Spilling at this age is normal though, so make sure your expectations are in line with what he can do.

How your child moves (your child's gross motor skill development):
  • Your child will learn to throw and catch a large ball.
  • Hopping, climbing and skipping are activities that your child may love to practice.
  • Your child will learn to pedal a tricycle during this period. Make sure she wears a helmet.
  • Your child may be more prone to accidents because she may be more adventurous.
  • Protect your child from falls by making sure play equipment is safe and supervising your child.

How your child communicates (your child's speech and language development):
  • Asking "why" is a favorite activity for your child during this period. Your child wants to know what causes the events around him.
  • Your child will learn to respond to the question "why" in his own fashion and may ask "Why?" over and over again.
  • Your child will learn to listen to the explanations of others with interest.
  • Your child's vocabulary continues to grow rapidly.
  • Your child is pronouncing words better, but may still leave out or substitute some sounds (especially "L" or "R").
  • Your child's imagination and his increased ability to remember the past make him an interesting storyteller.
  • Your child can recite familiar stories you have read. Reading is all about playing with words and sounds through rhymes, songs and stories.

How your child explores (your child's cognitive development):
  • Your child should be able to answer questions like "What do you do when you are sleepy or hungry?"
  • Your child will learn to know different shapes by name (circle, square, triangle) and colors (blue, red, yellow, green).
  • Your child will, by age 5, know how to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • By setting firm and consistent limits for your child, you will begin to teach your child the difference between right and wrong. He may still seem to "lie" on occasion, but he will believe this lie really is the truth.
  • Your child will have a difficult time knowing the difference between reality and fantasy during this period.
  • Your child will have a better understanding of the concepts of past, present and future by the end of this period.
  • Playing pretend will ready your child for reading. If a rock can "be" an egg, then a group of letters can stand for a word.

How your child is growing emotionally (your child's social and emotional development):
  • During this period, your child may develop new fears especially about unfamiliar sights and sounds.
  • Your child will learn to share with others, most of the time.
  • Your child will learn to follow simple rules in games like "hide and seek", but will always want to win and be first. Playing "fair" comes later.
  • Your child will enjoy playing make believe games.
  • Your child may be very easily influenced by what he watches on TV. He may try to act as if he were his favorite character. Supervise what he watches.
  • Your support and guidance will help your child begin to gain control of his emotional, aggressive, and sexual impulses.
  • You may notice that your child will approach other children and begin to play with them.
  • Be aware that a normal part of your child's development during this period is sexual exploration of one's own body. Your child will learn about what is appropriate from your messages to him.

Loving and playing with your child:
  • Playing "house" will give your child opportunities to practice imitate your activities and to try different roles.
  • Make outdoor playing time part of your child's daily routine. Visit playgrounds or parks and go for walks.
  • Your child's curiosity leads her into exciting new experiences and increases learning.
  • Read to your child regularly, every day if you can.
  • Your child's interest and attention will be your guide as to what level story is "right" for him.
  • Remember, some children may not be toilet trained until they are four years old.

How to keep your child healthy:

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