Ages and stages: Developmental milestones for preschoolers



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Updated on Feb 06, 2024 · 6 mins read
Ages and stages: Developmental milestones for preschoolers

As your child enters the preschooler age marked by a happy third birthday — you may find yourself lamenting that they are growing up so fast. But strap in, because the preschooler years (between ages three to five) are marked by some massive growth as your rambunctious toddler rapidly becomes a tiny human before your eyes.

And as they enter this period, where they are building their social, emotive, physical, cognitive and language skills in preparation for big school — many parents wonder what developmental milestones to look out for in this stage.

So, to help parents, we’ve put together the different developmental milestones to be aware of, and what you can expect they will develop in the next two years.  These milestones are broken down into the fice main areas or stages of your child’s development: physical, social, emotional, cognitive and language.

Don’t forget, this is all based on averages provided by the Australian government — but every child is unique in their own way and some things can’t be rushed. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development, it is best to get in contact with their primary GP or paediatrician.

Physical skills

Building off the fine and gross motor skills they developed as a toddler, like walking, running, climbing, catching and throwing as well as holding things such as blocks and crayons, your preschooler is well on their way to becoming more physically independent. These next two years are a time when you can expect them to become a bit more able to take care of themselves — like getting dressed and undressed with little help, developing the ability to go to the toilet by themselves and feed themselves with minimal spills or mess (this is definitely a work in progress).

One core milestone to look out for is your child taking on increased responsibility for their well-being. Think being able to brush their teeth and take part in routines or schedules (for example getting into their PJs before bed).

You can also expect them to build even more confidence in walking, running and just having fun moving their bodies as they begin to master hopping, jumping and skipping. They should also begin to have more ease at the playground with their growing agility allowing them to traverse the different equipment with more confidence.

But it’s not just these gross motor skills that see improvement — as you engage your preschooler with arts and crafts or drawing — you will notice that their fine motor skills are also developing. This will be made known through their expanding abilities to hold a crayon/pencil between their thumb and first two fingers, to draw various shapes to cut paper using scissors independently.

Social skills

In the toddler phase,  your child will have begun playing with other children, but it was most likely parallel play — where they play next to each other, rather than with each other. But, excitingly, as they enter this preschooler phase your child begins to enjoy playing with other children, and they may even form a particular special friend (how adorable).

While a toddler most likely would have struggled with the concept of sharing, the preschooler stage is where the ability to share and cooperate with peers begins to develop. Though, this is a work in progress.

As they continue to socialise with other preschoolers and navigate some of these skills like sharing, they are directly building their ability to cooperate and make friends which will come in handy at preschool and school.


Building off the skills they learnt as a toddler to recognise and express their emotions, as preschoolers they begin to also understand the emotions of others more clearly. They will begin to understand when someone is hurt and will often try to comfort them.

Though this developing empathy is not perfect 100% of the time, it’s common for there to be the occasional outburst or bout of aggression.

They may also begin to be more expressive of their gender identity — potentially developing a stronger preference for same-sex playmates, or engaging in enforcing or performing gender roles with peers (e.g. “you’re a princess because you’re a girl”).

A great perk of the preschooler phase is that they often like to give and receive affection from their parents — so soak up those cuddles. They may also begin to praise themselves and be quite boastful, which is both adorable and represents their growing confidence.


Over the next two years, your child’s cognitive development is kicked up to the next level. One day it feels like they relied on you for every little question about the world and the next, they are recounting a fact about dinosaurs that has your jaw on the floor.

Their attention span is growing longer, which means they should begin to be able to follow simple instructions and rules and be able to hold their focus on a task for longer. They will also begin to be able to recall events or recount a recent story.

When it comes to counting, they will begin to be able to build towers up to eight to ten blocks high and be able to count five to ten things at a time. They will often use touch to count as they are beginning to understand the relationship between numbers and objects.

They are also beginning to be able to copy letters and numbers, and may even begin to write letters and numbers unprompted. Their ability to correctly match and name some colours is also expected to improve.

Finally, their ability to understand ideas is set to improve. They should begin to understand opposites, for example, small and tall and they will begin to engage in dramatic play, pretending to be characters or acting out stories. During play, they will also begin to talk to themselves or narrate what they are doing to help guide the story or activity they are acting out.


If you thought your toddler was chatty – they have got absolutely nothing on preschoolers. During this age stage, you can expect your child to overtime move from sentences of two to four words to full sentences. Yep, preschoolers love talking and will experiment with adding new words to their vocabulary and may even pick up on you and imitate your form of speech.

This age stage is defined by these curious little people asking questions pretty much 24/7.  But they also love jokes, rhymes and stories and joining in on the conversations of the family.
The preschooler age-stage is a huge time of growth and development as you are preparing your child for big school. While looking at milestones is an important way to measure their developing skills — try to remember that every child learns these skills in their way and at their own pace. However, if you are concerned about your child’s development, it is best to get in touch with your GP or paediatrician early in the process (even if it’s just to alleviate your worries).

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