Information on Children Ages

36 months (3 years)
to 48 months (4 years)



How are children learning about feelings and relationships?


How children think about and manage

  • themselves,
  • their feelings and behavior, and
  • their relationships

is what we call social-emotional development.

The development of these skills is as important in children’s success in school as are other skills, such as language and literacy and mathematics.

During the first five years of age, children are learning how to

  • manage their own behavior,
  • recognize, express and manage their feelings,
  • notice and respond in caring ways to the feelings of others,
  • interact with friends,
  • be a member of a group, and
  • develop close relationships with adults, including parents, other family members, and teachers.

Children learn these social-emotional skills in close relationships with adults through back-and-forth communication, shared experiences and nurturing guidance. Play is also central to helping children learn these skills. Through play, children practice their social skills, explore feelings, try on new behaviors and get feedback from others. Play allows children to learn more about themselves and others and develop their communication and interaction skills.

Social-Emotional Development


What is my child learning about themselves and their feelings?

Your four-year-old is enthusiastic about doing things herself. She may refuse your help, even if she is struggling and frustrated. She has lots of ways to describe herself and her skills. “I’m four now!” “I’m bigger.” “I like to draw.” “I know how to ride a scooter!” She may celebrate her accomplishments with a cheer. She has developed a few ways to help herself calm down when distressed, but sometimes needs the support and comfort of her adults to help her soothe herself. She can start cleaning up by herself, sometimes without being asked. She can think about how she has changed. “I used to be three, but now I’m four!”

He can express and describe feelings such as “sad,” “mad,” and “afraid,” can explain what caused them, and may be able to ask for specific comfort. He can also describe the feelings of other children and sometimes identify the reason they feel that way. “Theo is sad because Laurene knocked down his blocks.” He can offer comfort and show empathy for others sometimes, especially if he wasn’t directly involved in the conflict.

What are they learning about other people and relationships?

  • Friendships are important to children’s success in school and in life. Their growing ability to communicate and negotiate with their friends allows them to play for longer periods of time and to engage in more complex kinds of play.
  • They are beginning to notice and describe differences between themselves and others. “Nona’s hair is brown and mine is black.”
  • They may be developing special friendships with certain children and may use the words “best friend.”
  • They are still learning what “friendship” means and may think that if they are mad at someone, they aren’t friends anymore.
  • They have some skills to enter play with other children. They might watch for awhile, start playing beside others, or ask if they can play—for example, suggesting that they could be the “sister” in the pretend family play.
  • They have some negotiation skills and might use them to resolve a conflict with friends. They are sometimes able to share toys and materials in play with other children, but will still engage in negotiations about “who had it first” and “how long the turn will be.”
  • They can give directions to others in play—for example, “You have to be the daddy”—and sometimes take directions from others. But other times they might get upset and threaten that if people don’t play by their rules, they can’t come to their birthday party.
  • They can participate in group activities with several other children, but may not be always able to wait for their turn to talk. They like to know what will be happening and if given information about an upcoming transition, may be able to participate cooperatively.
  • Parents and teachers are very important to them as sources of comfort and information, but they may resist adult direction, saying, “You’re not the boss of me.” They seem eager to make all the decisions and have to “test” regularly to see if the adult is still in charge of a decision. They are beginning to be able to follow the rules, even if there isn’t an adult nearby, but sometimes need to be reminded about the rules.

Tips to support your child learning about himself as a person, learning about his feelings and learning about other people

Learning about self as a person

  • She likes to feel “independent.”Taking time with routines so your child can do some of the things by herself lets her know you think she is capable and gives her practice with new skills.
    • She may want to pick out her own clothes, as well as dress and undress herself.
    • She likes to help with household tasks like cooking, gardening, sorting the laundry, setting the table, putting toys away or helping wash the car.
  • In his attempt to be “grown up” he may resist doing what you ask her to. Even when you need to stop him or set a limit, you can let him know you understand his idea. If he refuses to turn off the TV, even after you have given him a warning, you can talk with him, acknowledge his feelings, suggest when he can watch again, and give him a choice about how to end the activity.
    • “It’s time to turn off the TV now.” (positive limit)
    • “I know you love to watch this program.” (acknowledging her idea)
    • “After we turn it off, we can make a plan for when you can watch it next.” (closed-ended choice)
    • “Can you turn it off yourself or shall I help you?” (closed-ended choice)
    • “Let’s find another fun activity to do—maybe something where you get to move around and be active or maybe something where you could write your own story.” (open-ended choice)

Learning about own feelings

  • Ask her about feelings.
    • “How are you feeling now?”
    • “Look at the boy in the book. How do you think he is feeling? Why do you think he is feeling like that?”
  • Help him to understand his feelings by offering names for them when he doesn’t have words for them.
    • “It looks like you are feeling sad.”
    • “It can be frustrating when you try to build a tower and it keeps falling down.”
    • “I can see how excited you are to go to your friend’s house.”
  • Make time regularly to talk about feelings.
    • “How was your day? What were you happy about? Did you get mad about anything? Was there anything sad that happened? What was your favorite part of the day?”
    • When she shares her feelings and experiences with you, you can listen to her ideas and talk to her about them.
  • Help him to find safe ways to express his feelings.
    • “It looks like you are angry with your friend. Can you tell her what you are angry about?”
    • “If you are mad and want to hit something, you can hit this cushion, but it’s not safe to hit your friend.”
    • When your child is fearful, stay close and offer comfort. Sometimes your child doesn’t want to be taken away from the scary situation, but wants you to be there to help. If he is afraid of the neighbor’s friendly dog, you can squat down next to him, holding him, and talk about the dog. Often, your presence and some information and safe interaction will help him feel less afraid. If he wants to move away, take your cues from him. Sometimes taking a photo of the scary thing and letting your child hold and talk about the photo will help him with his fear.
    • You can make the photos into a book or ask him if he wants to draw pictures and help make his pictures into a book (stapling it together). When the pictures or photos are in a little book, he might want to tell you some words to write about the pictures. Reading this book with him can help him learn to manage his fears.
  • Let her know that all her feelings are healthy and that you will listen to or acknowledge her feelings. Acknowledging your child’s feelings allows her to trust you with her feelings and not feel like she has to hide them from you.

Learning about other people

  • Provide opportunities for her to play with other children (at the park, with neighbors or family, in childcare or parent/child classes).
  • Be available when he is playing with other children. He may need some help in negotiating, listening to her friends’ ideas, voicing his own ideas and in coming up with solutions. He may also need some help with safety, as he is excited about trying new things.



How are children learning language?


Children are born ready to communicate and to learn language. Listening to the language of their families, children soon start to distinguish familiar sounds and to build a vocabulary of words they understand, even before they can speak. Children’s ability to understand language is called “receptive language.”

At first, young babies communicate through making sounds, e.g., crying, and through making gestures. As they approach toddlerhood, they begin to use a few familiar words and, by 4 and 5 years old, they have large vocabularies and follow the rules of grammar when they communicate using language. Children’s ability to use language to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings is called “expressive language.”

As children are learning about spoken language, they are also learning about written language–through books, signs, and notes. Before learning to read words, children learn that print represents words and before writing, they learn to make marks and draw pictures. By the time they turn 5 they understand that letters make words and that words can make stories that they will learn to read. Many 5 year olds can also read and write their own name.

Language Development & Literacy


How do children learn language and begin to understand reading and writing??

  • Around 4 years old, most children are able to communicate their ideas and feelings, ask and answer questions, and understand what is said to them. They are able to talk about things that happened in the past and that will happen in the future.
  • They can participate in conversations with others, responding “on topic” some of the time. They can tell stories and relate simple sequences. They may combine imaginary and real events in their stories.
  • Around 4 years old, children like to play with the sounds of words, making up silly rhymes. They also like to make up “nonsense” words and sometimes experiment with “potty” language. They have learned many of the communication “rules” of their family and culture and when using language only make a few errors, such as “I wented to the store.” They also like to learn “big” words, like the names for specific types of trucks.
  • At around 4 years old, children understand that letters on a page in a book are different from pictures. They are learning that letters make words and that when different people read words, the words stay the same.
  • They are interested in drawing and writing and will “pretend” to write letters and words, even before they know how to write real letters.
  • At around 4 years old, children also pretend to read books, turning the pages and “telling the story” either from their memory of the story or by talking about the pictures. Many have also learned the words to several songs.

Bilingual Language Development

How do children in bilingual or non-English-speaking families learn language?

  • Young children are very skilled at learning language and have the ability to learn two or more languages even before they begin school.
  • Families who speak a language other than English at home can use their home language as their primary language with children. Learning their home language helps children feel connected to their family and culture. They can learn English at the same time if the family is bilingual or they can learn English when they begin childcare or school.
  • Families support language learning by talking, reading and singing to their children in their home language. In this way children learn many language skills that will help them when they begin learning English.
  • Check with your local library for books in your home language.
  • Children who have this opportunity to become bilingual at an early age will benefit from the use of both languages throughout their lives.

Listening and Speaking

How do speaking and listening help a child learn language?

Learning to speak and to engage in conversation are very important first steps to learning to read and to school success. The more words children hear and the bigger their vocabularies, the better they do in school.

Children are eager learners of language and are fascinated with the power of language:

  • to communicate their needs, feelings and ideas,
  • to share their personal experience with others,
  • to make things happen,
  • to get and give information,
  • to solve problems,
  • to help them make connections with people, and
  • to create and tell stories.

Children learn language by listening, talking, practicing new words, and being listened to and responded to. Children learn words when you use new words with them. Families have many, many everyday opportunities to help children learn language.

Here are some tips to support your child’s language development and interest in reading:

  • You can support children’s language development during your routine daily activities. Language isn’t something that has to be taught in “special lessons.” When families talk with children they are naturally teaching language. Using language with children is all that families have to do. The more language families use with children, the more children will learn.
  • In the car, at the store, on a walk, at home doing chores, while a child is playing, during meals, and at bedtime.When you talk about things that are immediate and familiar, children can understand the language better because they have visual clues and experiences to match your words.
  • Talk about
    • what you are seeing,
    • what they are doing,
    • what you are doing,
    • what you did together earlier, or
    • what you are going to do later.
  • Add a few new descriptive words when you are talking to children. One of the ways we naturally build vocabulary with children is by introducing new words along with the familiar ones they already know and with visual clues so they can more easily understand the new words.
    • “There is a dog.”
    • “There is a big, bouncy dog.”
    • “There is a big, bouncy, curly-haired dog who is sniffing the rock and wagging its tail.”
  • Share stories with them. Stories give you a chance to share what is important to you, what you value and how you think about things. Stories can help children feel connected to you and invested in learning language.
    • Children love to hear stories from your childhood. These stories can teach them about history, family and culture.
    • Stories can be about your day, or about things you are interested in. You can use stories to remember and reflect on your child’s day.
    • Stories don’t have to be long. They can include what happened, how you or your child felt about it, how people solved problems, or what it was like for you to be a child.
    • You can use stories to demonstrate ideas that you value, for example, persistence, creativity, compassion, generosity, caring, bravery, teamwork.
  • Ask children questions.Asking children questions gives them a chance to reflect on and think about what they know and also offers them an opportunity to practice choosing and articulating words. It also lets them know that you value their ideas..
  • Ask them about:
    • what they see,
    • what they are doing,
    • what they are thinking about,
    • how they feel,
    • what they like,
    • what happened earlier, or
    • what they think is going to happen.
  • Ask them follow-up questions. When they tell you something, you can ask for more details. Asking more questions challenges them to think more deeply about what they know and to find words to describe it. Responding to your questions is one way for them to stretch their language muscle.
    • “Wow, you and Rigo played dragons. What did the dragons do? Tell me more about the dragons. How do you think dragons make that fire that comes out of their mouths?”
    • “You drew a spaceship? What does your spaceship have inside? What makes your spaceship fly? Where is your spaceship going? Tell me more about your spaceship.”
  • Ask questions that allow children to create their own answer (avoid questions that have yes or no answers). When we ask children questions that don’t have a “right answer,” they can be more creative and thoughtful in their answer, rather than just trying to figure out what you want them to say.
  • Here are some examples of questions that might lead to more conversation or less conversation:
    • “What did you and Liam do today?” (open-ended—more conversation)
    • “Did you have fun with Liam today?” (yes/no or closed-ended question—less conversation)
    • “What can you tell me about your friend Lew?” (open-ended—more conversation)
    • “Do you like Lew?” (yes/no or closed-ended question—less conversation)
  • Ask questions that you don’t have the answer for already. Asking questions that you don’t have the answer for already communicates to children that you are genuinely interested in their thinking and therefore that their thinking is important.
    • “What do you notice on this page?” (unknown answer—a good way to support children’s thinking)
    • “What do you think the dog is going to do?” (unknown answer—a good way to support children’s thinking)
    • “What color is the dog?” (known answer; less supportive of children’s thinking)
  • You can invite your child to answer the question they asked you. Children usually have a guess already when they ask you a question. Asking children what they think encourages them to put their thoughts into words and gives them more opportunity to participate in conversation with you.
    • “That’s an interesting question. How do you think stars get up in the sky?”
  • Listen to children. Children will talk more when they know that you are listening. More talking gives them more practice with language.
  • You can let them know you are listening by
    • making eye contact,
    • allowing quiet space for them to talk or finish what they are saying,
    • turning the TV off,
    • creating “talking time” regularly (for example, sitting on the couch together, taking a walk together, snuggling at bedtime), repeating or restating what they said to let them know you heard them,
    • asking questions, or
    • thanking them for sharing their ideas or stories with you.
  • You can use technology to support children’s language development.
    • Use your phone to record children’s words and stories. When you play it back you can talk about what they said.


How do children learn to read?

  • When you read with children you begin to open up whole new worlds for them. Reading allows them to learn about a powerful form of communication and gives them access to all kinds of information.
  • Most children love to share a book with a family member. Reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do to help them learn to read and to be successful in school.
  • Reading doesn’t just happen with books. Children are fascinated with signs, labels, instructions, notes, letters, and emails. Learning the many uses there are for reading helps children be even more excited about learning to read.
  • Early reading experiences for children start with children learning to recognize photos and pictures. They learn that photos and pictures can be named and talked about. They also learn that stories can be told about pictures in books. And eventually they learn that the letters on the page tell the story about the pictures or describe them. For example, they start to understand that there is a connection between the picture of an apple and the letters “a-p-p-l-e” on a page—that the letters represent the idea of an apple.
  • When children are becoming familiar with books, they are learning many things:
    • that books are important (because they are important to you!) and because they have so much interesting information in them;
    • how you use a book—hold it, turn the pages, talk about every page;
    • how you can use it with someone or by yourself;
    • where the story is (Is it in the pictures or in the letters at the bottom of the page or in the memory of the person reading it?); and
    • how books are organized (the title and authors’ names are on the front and the story is inside).

Here are some tips for what families can do to support children in pre-reading activities

  • Look at photos and pictures with children, ask them what they see, and talk about what you see. This helps children develop their observation skills and gives them the opportunity to practice and increase their vocabulary.
  • Ask them what they think is happening in the picture. This gives children a chance to practice “telling their own story” and may help them to think of themselves as storytellers and writers.
  • Notice words in the environment and point them out to children. When we point out the places that words are used in the world, children begin to see the importance of the written word and feel even more motivated to learn how to read those words.
    • When you are in the car, you can talk to children about the road signs.
    • In the grocery store, children can help you “read” the labels on the cans and packages.
    • Talking about pictures can help children experience the feeling of reading.
  • Read them what you are writing. When children see writing in process and hear what it means, they can more clearly see the connection between writing letters and communicating a message.
    • “I’m making a list for the grocery store. Here it says ‘cheese,’ and here it says ‘rice.’ What kind of fruit should we put on our shopping list?”
    • “I’m writing a note to your teacher that says we are going out of town next week.”
  • Read notes and letters out loud to them.
    • “Here is a note your teacher wrote. It says, ‘“Dear Families . . .’”
  • Point to the words you are reading.
    • Pointing to words helps children understand how the spoken word is connected to the written word.
    • “This is a note from Grandma. Here she says, ‘I love you.’ Here she says, ‘I’m going to come to visit you.’“
  • Read them emails and text messages also. Sometimes words on a screen aren’t as obvious to children. Showing them these words helps them see how technology can also carry written words and communication.
    • Many of the words in their environment are electronic, and this can also provide opportunities for pre-reading activities.
  • Look for opportunities to write down their words. Writing down children’s words is one of the most important things you can do to demonstrate to them the power of writing and reading. If their own words can be “saved” and shared with more people and at a different time, they can feel the power of writing and reading.
    • If they are feeling sad to say good-bye to their friend, you can suggest that they might want to write a note. They can draw the picture and tell you what to write. Once you have written their words down, read them back to your child
    • If their friend is having a birthday, they can help make a card—by drawing and telling you the words to write.
    • If they build something and want to save it, you can help them make a sign (using their words) to tape on their structure.
  • Make drawing materials (pencils, pens, markers, chalk) available to them. When they draw, you can ask if they want to tell you about it. You can write down their “story” on a post-it note and then ask if they want you to read it back to them. Drawing materials give them a chance to practice how to make lines and shapes—the skills they will eventually need for writing. Even drawing pictures gives them the sense of being able to communicate their ideas in different ways, and they can begin to have the experience of being an “author” themselves.
  • Read books to children. Reading books to children not only gives them practice with all the skills necessary for reading, but it also communicates to them how important reading is to you.
    • Provide a variety of children’s books on a shelf or in a basket that children can reach.
    • You can make regular trips to the library or bookstore to get books for your child.
    • Include reading as a regular activity with your child (find a time every day when you can read books with your child).
    • Turn off the TV to make time for reading.
    • Read books more than once to your child. Children generally love to read the same book many times.
    • Talk about the book with your child.
    • Before turning the page, ask your child what he thinks is going to happen next.
    • As well as reading the words, you can discuss the story and pictures with your child: “What do you see on this page?”; “Why do you think the boy climbed to the top of that tree?”; “What would you do if you were riding that horse?”
    • Before reading one of your child’s favorite books to him, ask if she wants to tell you the story first.
    • Sometimes, when reading to your child, you can point to the words as you read them.
    • Explain to your child what the words on the cover of the book are. “This is the title of the book. It gives you an idea of what the book is about.” “This is the author’s name. The author is the person who wrote the book. This is the illustrator’s name. He is the person who made the pictures for the book.”
    • Talk to your child about letters and sounds.
    • Point out the letters in special words, like your child’s name. “Your name starts with an ‘“S,’” Sergio. Can you think of any other words that have that ‘“ssss’” sound? We can also look around for words that start with ‘“S.’” We could make a list of all the words we hear the ‘“ssss’” sound in.”
    • Play with sounds and rhyming. Using songs, poems or other rhyming words, you can help children hear and compare the sounds of the words.
    • You can play rhyming games in the car. “The bear has black hair. Can you think of a word that sounds like ‘bear’ and ‘hair’?”
  • Use your phone to record yourself reading books to children and they can listen to them when you are busy or when they are waiting in the doctor’s office.


How do children learn to write?

  • By 4 years old, many children have become aware of several of the uses of writing. They know that there are words in many places—books, signs, notes, letters, magazines, computers, stores.
  • They are beginning to understand that people can use writing to give messages to other people.
  • When they draw something, they may also want to write letters on the paper. Their “letters” may not yet look fully like letters, but often they are beginning to look more like writing than drawing.
  • A child may make several wiggly lines across a page and say, “This is the story of the scary wolf.” Then she might draw some circles at the bottom of the page and say, “And here is a picture of the wolf.” Writing and drawing together is a step in the direction of learning to write legible words.
  • Having ready access to a variety of drawing and writing tools and paper encourages children to use these tools to express themselves and to communicate.

Tips for what families can do to support children learning to write

  • Have a variety of writing tools and paper (pencils, pens, fine-tip markers, paper of different sizes) where children can see them and reach them themselves. Children often have the need to draw pictures or make signs in their play. Having materials readily available will encourage them to use these in their play more often.
  • You can also include tape and paper strips, so children can make signs or envelopes and can write letters or notes. Some children may like to have paper with wide lines for writing.
  • Create a favorite “word envelope” for your child that can hold words your child has asked you to write for them. When children can revisit those words, they start to become familiar with what they look like and can begin to start “reading” them.
  • You can print or buy an alphabet chart so that you and your child can refer to it when he is wanting to know how something is spelled. Posting an alphabet allows your child to reference the letters on their own and may help them to feel like they can begin to write independently.
  • You can offer sets of letters to your child. Having letters around helps your child become familiar with their shapes and allows her to start arranging them, even before she is fully able to write them.
    • There are different kinds of letters you can buy, including magnetic letters that children can use on the refrigerator, or you can simply write letters on little pieces of thick paper and offer them to children to use in making words.
  • Invite your child to write with you when you are writing notes or making lists. Children love to be helpful and to participate in adult work. This can spark their interest in learning more about writing.
    • “I’m going to make a shopping list. Do you want to help me?” If you know your child can write certain letters, you can invite him to write them on your list. “I’m writing ‘apples’ on the list, and that starts with an ‘“A’” like your name. Do you want to write the ‘“A’” for me?”
  • Offer to write children’s stories or words for them. Writing down their ideas and reading them back their words is a powerful experience for children in the effectiveness of writing to hold and express your ideas.
    • If there is a friend or someone they would like to communicate with, you can offer to help them write a note.
    • If they draw a picture, you can ask them if they want to tell you about it and have you write down their ideas.



How are children learning about numbers?


Young children explore and begin to practice the skills needed for mathematics long before they enter elementary school. During the first years of life, children learn to count, recognize shapes and patterns, compare sizes and amounts, and recognize similarities and differences. Children develop these skills through their self-initiated exploration and play with materials and through simple interactions with adults. Everyday interactions such as adults counting fingers and toes, offering two pieces of banana, and arranging blue and white socks in different piles contribute to children’s growing math skills. Children begin to communicate about amounts of things by using words such as “more” and “bigger.”

As they grow older they learn to count a few numbers. They also build their understanding of quantity through activities such as putting plates and cups on a table. They become aware of how adults use counting in everyday life and learn about how to use numbers by imitating adults. Throughout the early years, most children are naturally interested in numbers. Fun activities that involve numbers strengthen children’s natural interest and encourage them to learn more about math concepts.

Number Sense


What are preschool children learning about numbers?

Young children begin to practice the skills needed for arithmetic and math long before they enter elementary school. Most of these skills are developed through their self-initiated play with materials and through simple interactions with adults.

  • Young children learn counting skills through everyday interactions such as putting plates on the table, counting their fingers to tell you how old they are, and counting the number of apples needed so each child can have one.
  • Children usually learn how to say “1-2-3-4-5” (sometimes putting the numbers in different order) before they know that each number represents something. For example, they might have three strawberries and count them “1-2-3-4-5,” because they don’t know that each strawberry gets only one number. As a child begins to get this concept, you might see her lining up all the animals and giving each one a leaf to eat. Eventually, they learn that if you are counting something each object gets one number.
  • Young children are also beginning to understand the ideas of “more” and “less” and will notice if someone has more cookies than they do, but they don’t clearly understand quantity. If they have one cookie and their friend has one cookie cut into two pieces, they might think that their friend has more cookies. Their ideas about “more” and “less” help them learn to compare more than two things. As they get more experience, they will be able to sort three sticks from shortest to longest or three balls from smallest to biggest.
  • At around four years old, children may be able to count to 10, but may miss some of the numbers (for example., “1-2-3-5-7-8-10”).
  • They may recognize a written number. For example, they might point to a street sign and say, “That’s a number 4—just like I am 4.”
  • They can also look at a small number of things and know how many there are without counting: “He has three cars and I only have one!”
  • At four years, children can usually count up to five objects, pointing at each when they say the number.
  • Four-year-olds can often tell you which is more just by looking. If their friends have six blocks and they have two, they can let you know that their friend has more than they do.
  • They can predict that if there is a group of dolls in the bed and one gets taken away, there will be fewer dolls in the bed. Similarly, if they put two groups of things together (combining their crackers and their friend’s crackers), they know that now they have more.
  • At four years old, children can do very simple adding and subtracting. If they have four apple slices and they eat one, they can tell you that now they have three—without counting. If they have a train that is four cars long and they add one, they can tell you that there are five cars now.

Tips for families to help children in understanding numbers:

Many of the things that families do naturally with children help them to develop their math and number skills. There are many opportunities in our everyday lives where adults are counting things and children are practicing numbers in their play. Here are some suggestions of things families can do:

  • Count out loud, so your children can hear the sequence of numbers and notice how often you use counting in your day.When children learn from you how numbers are useful in everyday life, their interest in numbers grows.
    • Count the kisses you give your child, count the trees outside your home, or count the number of times the dog barks.
  • Point to things as you count them so that children can see how each number you say represents one object.
  • Ask your child to guess or predict how many things there are and then count them together: “How many buses will come by before our bus gets here?”
  • Children will make lots of mistakes when they are learning about numbers. Without saying that they are “wrong,” you can gently suggest that we count again together. Or you can say, “You counted 5 ducks and I only see 4.”Children are naturally interested in imitating you to learn about things like numbers. Over time, they will say things the way you do and self-correct” to be more like you.
  • Shopping, cooking and eating provide many opportunities for counting:
    • “Shall we get four ears of corn or five? Can you count them for me as I put them in the bag?”
    • “If we get two bananas and you eat one in the car, how many will be left?”
    • “I think I’ll get the bigger bag of tortillas, because we have all our cousins coming for dinner. Can you reach the bigger one for me?”
    • “We have three bags of groceries. Do you think they will all fit in our car?”
    • “How many bags would you like to carry in and how many shall I carry?”
    • “Can you put the bananas on this plate and the plums in this bowl?”
    • “We need three pieces of bread. Can you get them out of the bag?”
  • These conversations about numbers should be fun. If your child seems stressed or doesn’t want to do these games, you can wait and try again later or try a different game.



How are children becoming skillful at moving their bodies?


  • Physical development and physical activity play an important role in health throughout a child’s life span. In particular, being physically active protects against heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It also contributes to mental health, happiness and psychological well-being.
  • Physical movement skills are a basis for other types of learning and allow opportunities for children to engage with others, to explore, to learn, and to play.
  • Physical activity prepares children for activities in later life, including fitness activities, organized sports, and recreation.
  • Infants, toddlers and preschool children are developmentally ready and very motivated to learn new movement skills. The preschool period is an opportune time for young children to learn fundamental movement skills. If children do not learn those skills during the preschool period, they may have difficulty learning them later, and their ability to participate in physical activities may be affected for the long term.
  • During the preschool years, children develop important movement skills. Those skills build on the physical development that happened for children in infancy and toddlerhood.
  • We now know how much children learn through physical activity outdoors in the natural world. It is important for adults to help children have opportunities for this kind of play, as many children spend a majority of their time in front of a television or computer screen instead of engaged in physical activity.
  • The more experience children have with physical activities, the more confidence they develop and the more willing they are to try new things and develop new skills. Children who spend a lot of time in front of the television or the computer may be less willing to try new physical challenges and may miss the chance to develop important physical skills.
  • Research highlights the benefits of experiencing nature for children and shows that children prefer spending time in natural settings. Further, we also know that access to green, outdoor spaces improves children’s thinking skills and their well-being and relationships.

Physical Development


Some of the things you might see with four-year-old children:

  • Showing a developed sense of balance.
  • Maintaining balance while standing on one foot as well as maintaining balance when they come to a stop after running.
  • Balancing while walking on the edge of the sandbox or while reaching down to touch their toes.
  • Walking up stairs, one foot per step, without holding on to the railing.
  • Walking along a thin line on the sidewalk, waving arms to maintain balance.
  • Running with feet flat.
  • Running, but may have trouble stopping.
  • Galloping (running, leading with the same foot).
  • Jumping up to touch something out of reach.
  • Hopping ahead using both feet.
  • Jumping like a frog from a squatting position.
  • Jumping off a curb or a low climbing structure with both feet.
  • Hopping forward on one foot.

Tips for families to support preschooler physical development:

  • Preschoolers need lots of opportunities to move, to run, to climb, to jump, to build and to throw. They enjoy carrying heavy things and building with blocks and other natural materials.
  • Preschoolers love to transport things. They like to carry things and to push things in carts, boxes or trucks. They also enjoy carrying things, such as baskets or purses with handles that they can use to fill and carry—recycled water bottles, or other things they find.
  • Preschoolers love to build, both stacking things and knocking them down, but also creating houses, roads, buildings, bridges and other structures they can use for pretend play. They will do this with almost anything they can find—cans and boxes from the cupboard, sticks and leaves from outside, small scraps of wood from the lumber store, several large cardboard boxes or sets of building blocks or snap-together blocks.Children’s pretend play about activities such as building, running, hiding, jumping and carrying motivates them to practice their physical skills.
  • Preschoolers also love to climb, and some will climb on anything they can find (chairs, tables, shelves, couches, benches).
    • Decide what is safe for your child to climb on and remind them to climb on those things when they start climbing on other things
    • You can also use mattresses, cushions and low platforms for children to climb on and use in building forts.
    • Outdoor playgrounds provide opportunities for climbing for children, as do natural areas with logs, boulders and hills. You and your child can explore your neighborhood for appropriate climbing places.
    • Children will sometimes fall when they are climbing, and most of the time they catch themselves and only get small scratches. These simple falls are also how they learn. They often want to go back to the same spot to try climbing again and will do it successfully because of what they learned the previous time.
    • When your child begins to climb, it is important that you look around the area to see if it is a safe environment.
  • Preschoolers enjoy being outside. Even short walks outside give children a chance to try out different surfaces for walking, running, galloping, hopping and jumping, and to watch the seasons and experience what the community has to offer.Outside environments offer children interesting challenges such as balancing on rocks and painted lines and jumping off logs and curbs.
  • Preschoolers enjoy challenges. If you are walking on the sidewalk, you might want to set different goals for them. “Can you run to the big tree? Can you hop all the way to the corner? Shall we try walking backwards for a few steps? Can you walk on the line down the center of the sidewalk?”
  • Children at this age also enjoy throwing. You can provide a variety of soft balls that they can throw. They may also be interested in beginning to hit balls with things like bats, sticks, or cardboard tubes.
  • Preschoolers also like to stretch their muscles by carrying or moving heavy things. A sealed bottle or box of laundry detergent would be fun for them to move. They enjoy carrying small stools around so they can reach a book off the shelf. They can help take out the trash or push the laundry basket to the table for folding.
  • Children around the age of 4 love wheel toys, small tricycles and bikes, wagons, carts and trucks, all of which provide ways for them to use their physical skills and also can be part of their pretend play.



What skills help children learn?


Young children develop many skills that help them learn and solve problems. These skills include the ability to pay attention, even when there are distractions, to observe, to ask questions, to gather information and to explore different ways to solve problems. These skills are called approaches to learning.

Young children learn to use math concepts such as number, shape, and size when solving problems. They use all of their senses to gather information, notice differences and similarities, and often make comparisons. They carefully observe people and things and form hypotheses and make predictions based on their observations. They also do simple experiments and evaluate the outcomes of their experiments.

Young children are naturally curious. Adults can encourage children’s curiosity and initiative by asking children open-ended questions, being responsive to their questions, and providing a wide variety of materials for them to explore. Such support strengthens children’s growing confidence as learners and willingness to keep trying to solve challenging problems.

Approaches to Learning


What skills do preschool-aged use to solve problems?

  • One skill that preschool children use to solve everyday problems is math reasoning.
  • Math concepts like number, counting, shape and size all help children with solving problems. Children use these skills to choose what size plate they will need for their quesadilla, to figure out how many cars they need so each of their friends can have one and to search for a blanket big enough to cover two babies.
  • A young preschool child may begin by trying an idea that doesn’t work. An older preschool child may try several strategies, finally finding one that works. Whether their ideas work at first doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they are practicing using these ideas, testing them out and changing their course of action when necessary. These strategies are useful in everyday problem-solving, as well as in developing other math skills.
  • Children also use observation and investigation skills to solve problems.
  • Children use all their senses to gather information, and to construct meaning and knowledge.
  • They are naturally curious observers and notice small things that many adults miss, like the ants coming out of the crack in the sidewalk.
  • Children may also use tools provided to them for measuring or observing, with the guidance of adults. For example, when observing a leaf, they may use a magnifying glass to see the “lines” more clearly or use a ruler (or unit blocks) to measure its length. Through observation, children begin to recognize and describe similarities and differences between one object and another.
  • Children use their developing skill at careful observation to compare and contrast objects and events and classify them based on different attributes. For example, a child might separate all the “pointy” leaves from all the round leaves or separate the big leaves from the small ones.
  • Children may also investigate objects and events by trying things to see what happens. For instance, they may investigate what happens to the toy car when it rolls down ramps with bumpy or smooth surfaces, test what happens to plants placed in locations with or without light, or test out their ideas of how to use pipes to make water go up and down in the water table.
  • They learn to make predictions about changes in materials and objects based on their knowledge and experience, and to test their predictions through observations or simple experiments.
  • Children use their skills of observation and investigation to ask questions, observe and describe observations, use scientific tools, compare and contrast, predict, and make inferences.

Children use mathematical thinking to solve problems every day.

  • Children rearrange blocks to build a balanced, tall tower, for example, by placing the rectangular blocks at the bottom and triangular blocks at the top.
  • A child might go to get one more horse, so that each of her corrals has a horse in it.
  • A child might give his friend two flowers and keep two for himself, so they both have the same number of flowers.
  • A child might compare the length of her play-dough snake with her friends to see which is the longest.
  • A child might create groups of things according to whether they can roll or not.
  • A child might pour sand from a big bucket into a smaller container and realize that the sand won’t fit, and then might go to get another, bigger bucket.

Children demonstrate curiosity and ask simple questions about objects and events in their environment.

  • A child might build a tower higher and higher to see how high it can get before it falls.
  • A child might look at a snail and ask why it is hiding in its shell.
  • A child, when the car gets stuck on the ramp, might turn a car upside down and notice that a wheel is broken.

Children observe objects and events in the environment and describe them.

  • A child might observe the inside and outside of a pumpkin and describe how it looks, smells, and feels, using her senses of sight, smell and touch.
  • A child might observe a ball rolling down the slide and communicate, “Look how fast it is rolling. Let me try it again.”
  • A child might taste a piece of orange and a piece of lemon and call the orange sweet and the lemon sour.
  • A child with a visual impairment might touch the bark of a tree and communicate, “It feels a little scratchy when I touch the bark.”
  • A child, after dropping different balls onto the floor, might listen to and compare the different sounds they make and indicate which ball makes a loud sound and which ball makes a soft sound.
  • A child, while on a walk around the neighborhood, might squat down to smell some blooming flowers and exclaim, “It smells so good!”

Children begin to identify and use, with adult support, some observation and measuring tools.

  • A child, while exploring leaves, might use a magnifying glass, with a parent’s assistance, to observe a leaf closely.
  • A child, while digging in the garden, might use a shovel to move soil in the yard.
  • A child might hold a measuring tape up to the table and say, “I’m measuring the table. It is 6 long.”
  • A child, using a measuring cup, might help a family member measure two cups of flour during a cooking activity.
  • A child, while observing ants with a magnifier, might say, “Look how big the seed is. It is bigger than the ant.”

Children compare objects and events and begin to describe similarities and differences.

  • A child might observe rocks and sort them by size, indicating which are big and which are small.
  • A child might observe the inside and outside of a watermelon and describe the difference: “The outside is green and hard, and the inside is red and soft.”
  • A child might see images in a picture book and describe what she sees: “Frogs are green, and toads are brown.”
  • A child might demonstrate how a truck is very slow and a yellow car is very fast.
  • A child with a speech delay might dip his fingers in cups of water and indicate which cup has colder water.

Children make predictions and check them, with adult support, through real experiences.

  • A child might explore an apple and make a prediction: “Maybe it has six seeds inside.” After a parent cuts it open, he might count the seeds.
  • A child might look through the window on a windy day and predict, “More leaves will fall down.”
  • A child might make a prediction about how far the toy car will travel down the ramp, by indicating the distance with a gesture. Then he might push the car down to test his prediction.

Tips for families in helping children to practice mathematical thinking, to be observant, and to engage in investigation:

  • Offer open-ended materials for children to play with, including blocks, cars, shells, stones, toy animals, small and large cardboard boxes.Open-ended materials encourage children to use their creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills.
  • Involve children in household tasks like cooking, setting the table, and sorting laundry. Ask children to solve problems, for example:
    • “For how many people do we need to set the table with plates, forks and napkins?”
    • “Can you help me put all the light-colored clothes in this basket and the dark ones in this basket?”
    • “We have two apples, two bananas and two oranges for our fruit salad. How many pieces of fruit altogether do we have?”
  • Suggest simple measuring tasks for your child. For example: “If we line up the cars, how many do you think we can fit on the edge of this table?”
  • When you are grocery shopping, ask for your child’s help.
    • “Would you get 3 bananas?”
    • “How many potatoes do you think will fit in this bag? Shall we count them?”
    • “We have 5 people in our family. Would you get an apple for each person?”
    • “We need 2 pounds of peaches. Watch the scale to see when the needle points to 2.”
  • When you are outside or at the park, stop to look carefully at what is around you. Observe what your child is interested in and ask questions to encourage observation and reasoning. When we support children’s exploration of their interests, we can help deepen their investigation and understanding of the world around them.
    • “Oh, you found a leaf. Where is another one that is the same as this one? Are there any leaves that are different?”
    • “See all the earthworms? We didn’t see them yesterday. Why do you think they came out today?”