Preschoolers (3-5 years)

​​young girl with rag doll

Your child is now developing more socially, has real friendships and understands the causes of feelings. Physically they are much more coordinated in high energy activities suc​h as running and climbing and may have progressed to riding a tricycle.

All children develop at different rates; however, in this age range there are some skills that are especially important for your child’s self-esteem and learning. For example, being able to speak clearly is important in order to be understood by others.

If you are worried about your child’s development, speak to your pre-school teacher, your Maternal and Child Health nurse or call the Maternal and Child Health line on 13 22 29. Your final recommended Maternal and Child Health appointment is at three and a half years of age.

To find out more about the Maternal and Child Health service, how it works and how to find your closest centre, see: Maternal and Child Health

What your child may be doing

At three to four years:

  • socialising with a broader range of people
  • understanding how to share and play well with other children
  • developing a sense of humour and concern for others
  • using hands and fingers skilfully
  • holding a pencil in a mature grip using preferred hand
  • speaking well
  • decreasing temper tantrums.

At four to five years:

  • asking complex questions
  • improving walking, running and climbing skills
  • using a bicycle with training wheels
  • improving drawing skills and learning to write some numbers and letters
  • understanding the meaning of numbers
  • developing relationships with peers
  • showing independence but maybe becoming frustrated when tired, angry or embarrassed
  • showing confidence and increasing skill and speed in physical abilities
  • having extended conversations.

Talk to your Maternal and Child Health nurse about:

  • language development, the sorts of sentences your preschooler uses and how easy they are to understand
  • emotional development, whether your child is affectionate and if they come to you for comfort
  • your preschooler’s developmental milestones such as being able to draw a simple figure or circle
  • your child’s play and how they interact with other children
  • your child’s speech and any issues such as stuttering.

Your child's learning

You can support your child’s learning by:

  • encouraging them to explore, experiment and try things
  • talking about what is happening and encouraging your child to talk
  • finding out answers to questions together
  • reminding your child of events that have happened before
  • making suggestions about imaginary play, for example asking ‘What would it be like to be small like a mouse?’, or providing props to use for play
  • sharing songs, stories and rhymes, both new ones and old favourites.

Your child may now be eligible to attend a kindergarten program, which can provide new learning experiences and strengthen your child’s love of learning.

For more information on kindergarten, see: About Kindergarten

Play-based learning

Play is often social – that is, it involves other children. Social play gives your child a chance to practise getting along with other children and to learn new skills. Play helps children learn about themselves and where they fit in the world. Evidence shows that play can support learning across physical, social, emotional and intellectual areas of development.

A few suggestions of good play experiences for three to five-year-olds include:

  • drawing, painting, finger painting and making potato prints
  • emptying and filling containers in the bath or paddling pool but never leave your child unsupervised
  • dressing up in your old clothes, shoes and jewellery
  • climbing, digging and running outdoors
  • singing
  • playing with dolls and digital games
  • experiencing books.

Communicating with your child

Young children are trying hard to understand the world of people and objects and how they fit into it. They are eager learners who understand more and more complex ideas. They are curious about everything, which leads to a lot of ‘why’ questions. Answering their questions can sometimes take patience, but doing so is important for encouraging them as learners. If you don’t know the answer, it’s best to be honest. At times asking them ‘What do you think?’ in response to a question can help develop their problem-solving skills.

​Your child's behaviour

Your child needs you to set firm but reasonable limits. These limits offer security and protection from getting overwhelmed by too much responsibility before she or he is ready.

It’s easy to forget that young children are still trying to learn many things that we take for granted, such as understanding what is said to them. For example, you might think your child is simply not listening to you, but he or she may just be trying to figure out what someone said five minutes ago.

Young children are very interested in the world around them. This means that they often get distracted.

Some tips for helping your child learn to behave in acceptable ways include:

  • always keep in mind that children learn from what you do, so be a positive role model
  • show your child how you feel about their behaviour
  • give your child positive feedback for behaviour that you approve of
  • kneel or squat down next to your child when you are talking to her or him
  • keep promises
  • reduce the chance of your child damaging valuable objects through their exploration by putting them out of reach
  • keep instructions simple and positive
  • encourage your child to contribute to family life, letting him or her do some simple chores
  • maintain a sense of humour.

Back to: Your Child's Learning and Development

Related information

For more information, see:

  • About Kindergarten – contains information about starting kindergarten
  • Better Health Channel – contains information about different illnesses and conditions, healthy eating and health service directories
  • Child Care and Kindergarten – outlines the types of child care services available and the things you need to think about in order to choose a child care service or kindergarten that best meets your needs
  • Raising Children Network's Preschoolers Development – this website contains a development tracker for ages 3-4 and 4-5 years
  • Maternal and Child Health Line (phone 13 22 29) – qualified maternal and child health nurses provide information, support and advice to Victorian families with children from birth to school age (5 years old) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Nurse on Call (call 1300 60 60 24) – this telephone service provides immediate, expert health advice from a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Parent Line (phone 13 22 89) – this telephone counselling service is available to parents and carers of children aged from birth to 18 years throughout Victoria. They provide information and assistance on a wide range of issues, including those who are struggling with or finding the parenting role challenging. They can not, however, provide you with legal or medical information
  • Playgroups and Parent Groups – outlines what these are and why they are important.
  • Primary School - this contains information for parents about sending their child to a Victorian Government Primary School 
  • Your Child’s Health and Development: birth to 6 years (pdf - 354.46kb)