Little one’s development from 3 to 5 years

This is a time of huge mental growth for little one as they learn new skills and ideas.

The higher parts of little one’s brain are creating big networks so they can think and respond much more quickly.

Little one learns best through play at this time, especially with other children.

All of their growth and development to this point means they bound ahead in all areas.

Language (talking, listening and reading)

 Their language improves as they learn new words, can yarn more and can understand most of what they hear.

Reading with little one, telling stories and singing songs and nursery rhymes encourages their talking, imagination and thinking.

Little one could:

  • shrug, nod and wave
  • sing and tell stories in home language
  • understand non-verbal communication
  • use language to join in and greet people
  • ask what words mean
  • describe things in 5–7 word sentences
  • take turns to talk and listen
  • tell stories and pretend to read
  • start to understand street signs
  • say rhyming words, make up rhymes
  • know first letter of name and its sound
  • use pencil to write made-up words
  • hold book and turn pages.

We can:

  • use new words in day-to-day talk
  • ask questions so little one gives more details
  • sing songs in home language during daily routines
  • write down stories little one tells to connect talk with written words
  • have books out for little one to read with you
  • talk to little one about what local signs mean e.g. Danger crocodiles – no swimming
  • ask little one to write their name on their artwork.

 Learn more ways you can support their language development at this age.

Social-emotional (behaviour and emotions)

This is an important time for little one’s emotional development as they start to understand their body, mind and emotions are their own, while still learning to consider others.

Little one could:

  • look for others and ask them to play
  • share with and listen to others
  • start to know consequences
  • watch and join play
  • offer help and comfort
  • tell how others are feeling
  • start to be aware of things that are different – roles, cultures, types of people
  • think about what is fair
  • start to dress themselves
  • know what they are able to do.

We can:

  • play games where we show little one how to take turns and share ideas
  • show little one how to read the look on someone’s face and what they are feeling e.g. ‘Look at brother, he wants a go on the swing real bad’
  • point out what others do well so little one knows everyone works together e.g. ‘Sister is big enough to reach the toys on the shelf. You are small enough to get that ball from under the table’
  • show empathy and help to see both sides when little one is hurt, or hurts another.

Learn more ways you can support their social-emotional development at this age.

Cognitive (thinking and making connections)

 Little one enjoys lots of pretend and role playing because their imagination has grown.

Their thinking and memory skills have improved a lot and they are becoming really curious about the world.

Little one could:

  • pay attention for longer
  • follow simple rules
  • act out roles when playing
  • talk to self during play
  • ask ‘why’
  • sort things into groups
  • count to 5
  • spend time watching, take in details, say what they saw
  • start to know when objects are ‘bigger than’ and ‘smaller than’
  • start to know when objects are different e.g. more and less
  • start to recognise patterns and numbers
  • mix materials to see what will change e.g. add water to sand
  • point and say what order things take e.g. before, after, next
  • name some shapes.

We can:

  • ask little one to solve problems e.g. ‘How can you make the boat sink?’
  • let them try ideas and learn from mistakes
  • take time to answer their questions
  • help little one guess e.g. ‘What will happen if we put soap in the water?’
  • help them count things they know e.g. ‘How many plates do we need?’
  • ask questions so little one thinks about the relationship between objects e.g. ‘Which tree is biggest?’
  • point out patterns around you e.g. tracks in sand
  • let little one practise doing things in a certain order e.g. learn steps of a dance, take part in Ceremony, make a sandwich.

Learn more ways you can support their cognitive development at this age.

Physical (growth and movement)

Little one is very active and may love to make big movements as well as use small muscles like when building with blocks.

Little one could:

  • hop on 1 foot and jump up and down
  • explore large outdoor equipment
  • practise bouncing, catching and kicking a ball
  • go for longer walks
  • gallop and skip
  • get better at throwing
  • dance with others, move to the beat, use musical instruments
  • dress/undress without much help
  • hold objects e.g. crayon/pencil between thumb and first two fingers
  • draw different shapes
  • feed themselves without spilling much.

We can:

  • go for longer walks with little one
  • take them outdoors where they can climb up and jump down
  • play music with simple beats for little one to gallop and skip to, while you clap along
  • give little one practise hopping e.g. play hopscotch, do animal movements
  • play throwing-at-target games to help little one improve coordination
  • dance with little one to music
  • copy their actions and show them some new moves.

Learn more ways you can support their physical development at this age.

Published — 27 June 2019 Last updated — 27 June 2019

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