Typical 4 Year Old Development: Milestones to Look For

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As a parent/caregiver, you’ll often be faced with seemingly harmless questions from others about your child’s development. Let’s face it this starts almost immediately after your child’s birth and continues as they grow up. For example, you might be asked “Is your baby walking…talking…fill in the blank…yet?” But, these types of questions might cause you to worry that your child isn’t making adequate progress. Therefore, let me just start with a key disclaimer (one that I share with my students’ families.) It may be difficult but try not to compare your child’s development to anyone else’s. It’s critical to remember that each child will develop at their own pace. Plus it is more important that your child is making consistent progress rather than reaching specific milestones by a certain point in time. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing examples of typical 4-year-old development and ways to encourage growth.

What Can Parents Do to Encourage Typical 4-Year-Old Development?

One of the simplest and most effective ways to encourage several areas of development at once is through play. Children attain new knowledge and skills when they are given ample opportunity to engage in hands-on learning and exploration. According to the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

“Play (e.g., self-directed, guided, solitary, parallel, social, cooperative, onlooker, object, fantasy, physical, constructive, and games with rules) is the central teaching practice that facilitates young children’s development and learning. Play develops young children’s symbolic and imaginative thinking, peer relationships, language (English and/or additional languages), physical development, and problem-solving skills.”


Additionally, the organization states that, “All young children need daily, sustained opportunities for play, both indoors and outdoors. Play helps children develop large-motor and fine-motor physical competence, explore and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control their emotions, develop symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills.”

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of play in early childhood please read my post: The Importance of Play in Preschool: Learning Through Fun & Games.

What Does Typical 4-Year-Old Development Look Like?

When I assess a student’s progress in my own preschool classroom I will consider a child’s development in four major areas: cognitive, language/communication, social-emotional, and physical/motor. I’ve shared some examples of typical 4-year-old milestones in each of these areas.

I’ve also shared some of my favorite items and toys that I use in my home or classroom to teach important developmental skills through play. (If I couldn’t find exact matches, I’ve recommended similar products.)

I should also note that many early childhood toys and games can enhance the development of many skills at the same time. For example, a math game can encourage cognitive and language skills simultaneously. But, for the purpose of this post, I’ve separated them by category.


According to the Early Childhood Knowledge & Learning Center (ECKLC), “Cognition, or cognitive development, includes reasoning, memory, problem-solving, and thinking skills. Young children use these abilities to make sense of and organize their world.” These are some of the cognitive skills I generally see in 4-year-old students.

  • Count 10 or more objects
  • Name basic colors as well as 2D and 3D shapes
  • Understand and use positional words like behind, in between, over, and under
  • Begin to name letters and their corresponding sounds
  • Follow two-to-three-step directions
  • Attend to tasks for longer periods
Learning Resources 1-10 Counting Owls Activity Set, Counting & Sorting Toys, Math Game, Fine Motor Toy, 25 Piece Set, Ages 3+
  • SKILL DEVELOPMENT: Counting skills, Color Identification and Fine Motor Skills
  • One-to-one correspondence made Easy with printed numerals and owls to match
  • Includes 25 stacking owls, 1 branch, spinner, and 10 Activity Cards
  • The large size of each Owl is Perfect for whole hand or refined pincer grasp
  • GIVE THE GIFT OF LEARNING: Whether you’re shopping for holidays, birthdays, or just because, toys from Learning Resources help you discover new learning fun every time you give a gift! Ideal gift for Halloween, Christmas, Stocking Stuffers, Easter Baskets or even for Homeschool.
Learning Resources Fox In The Box Position Word Activity Set - 65 Pieces, Ages 4+ Preschool Learning Games, Kindergartner Back to School Games, Classroom Games for Teachers, Phonics Game for Kids
  • DEVELOP Fine motor skills, Following multi-step directions, Language development.
  • TEACH positional word vocabulary, rhyming, and how to follow multi-step directions.
  • Kids follow rhyming directions to place their cards in the proper place. Put the pear near the chair, or the bee in the tree!
  • Features a hat, box, tree, and chair, along with 20 picture cards, 40 double-sided activity cards, one double-sided spinner, and multiple instructional rhyming games and activities.
  • GIVE THE GIFT OF LEARNING: Whether you’re shopping for holidays, birthdays, or just because, toys from Learning Resources help you discover new learning fun every time you give a gift! Ideal gift for Halloween, Christmas, Stocking Stuffers, Easter Baskets or even for Homeschool.
Learning Resources Goodie Games ABC Cookies - 4 Games in 1, Ages 3+ Toddler Learning Toys, ABC Games for Toddlers, Preschool Games, Alphabet Learning Games, Math for Preschoolers
  • DEVELOP: Teach the alphabet, letter recognition, beginning sounds, CVC word building, and early vocabulary
  • LETTERS GAME: Support language development and creative thinking with imaginative play
  • 42-PIECE SET: Set includes 42 plastic letter-shaped cookies, 45 double-sided cards, 2 spinners, plastic storage jar, and activity guide
  • 4 fun games in 1
  • GIVE THE GIFT OF LEARNING: Whether you’re shopping for holidays, birthdays, or just because, toys from Learning Resources help you discover new learning fun every time you give a gift! Ideal gift for Halloween, Christmas, Stocking Stuffers, Easter Baskets or even for Homeschool.


This area encompasses a child’s ability to effectively express themselves in terms of their needs and wants as well as how they engage with others. A 4-year-old should be able to:

  • Respond to yes or no questions
  • Answer questions such as who, what, when, where, and why
  • Request help from others
  • Seek answers to questions
  • Use more vocabulary and detail to describe people, places, and things
  • Repeat songs or rhymes  

Language and communication tie directly into literacy learning. If you’d like more information about how to encourage your child’s literacy development please download my Free Literacy Guide here.

Barefoot Books is one of my favorite children’s book publishers. Their books are visually appealing, feature diverse stories and characters, and are great for language development. These are two of my students’ favorites every year. They both have singalong music videos to accompany them as well.

We All Go Traveling By (Sheena Roberts)
A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea (Jessica Law)


At a very basic level, social-emotional learning (SEL) refers to how we develop self-awareness as well as an understanding of others. For example, SEL can include how we learn to appropriately interact with other people, establish and maintain healthy relationships, and identify and manage our emotions (as well as understand the emotions of others.) Here are some of the social-emotional skills that a 4-year-old is generally able to exhibit:

  • Express individuality in their choices (i.e., choose what to play with and how, what book to read, etc.)
  • Actively interact with both peers and adults
  • Engage in creative and pretend play
  • Begin to understand how to share, take turns, and play cooperatively with others
  • Start to recognize emotions like happy, sad, frustrated, etc. as well as attempt to self-regulate when confronted with these feelings
  • Show care and concern for others

I think that SEL is equally as important as academic learning. Find out more about why I think caregivers and educators should focus on this type of development by clicking here.

Melissa & Doug Wooden Chef’s Pretend Play Toy Kitchen With “Ice” Cube Dispenser – Charcoal Gray - Kitchen Play Set For Toddlers And Kids Ages 3+ Charcoal Toy Kitchen
  • COMPLETE WOODEN PLAY KITCHEN: The Melissa & Doug Wooden Chef’s Pretend Play Toy Kitchen includes oven, stove, microwave, sink, refrigerator with working “ice” dispenser, and freezer
  • DURABLE PRETEND PLAY KITCHEN: The Melissa & Doug Chef’s Kitchen is a durable, wooden play kitchen with ample storage space for easy cleanup
  • INNOVATIVE TOY KITCHEN FOR KIDS: The innovative ice maker dispenses two included "ice” cubes, dials turn, microwave plate spins; includes grocery checklist, movable hooks, and doors that open and close
  • EASY TO ASSEMBLE: Our toy kitchen with “ice” cube dispenser is roomy enough for multiple kids to play at once. This kids play kitchen is ideal for kitchen accessory play sets, pretend food collections, and play pantry products
  • GREAT GIFT FOR AGES 3 AND UP: The Wooden Chef’s Pretend Play Toy Kitchen makes a great gift for kids ages 3 and up. Add the Melissa & Doug Kitchen Accessories Set to round out the pretend play cooking experience
Melissa & Doug Jolly Helpers Hand Puppets (Set of 4) - Construction Worker, Doctor, Police Officer, and Firefighter - Role Play Hand Puppets, Soft Hand Puppets For Toddlers Ages 2+
  • ENTERTAINING PUPPET SET: The Melissa & Doug Jolly Helpers Hand Puppets set contains 4 soft hand puppets, including a construction worker, doctor, police officer, and firefighter.
  • SOFT-STUFFED PLUSH MATERIAL: Our fuzzy hand-puppet set is made from soft-stuffed plush material that not only encourages cuddle time but is washable for easy cleanup.
  • SIZED FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS: This hand-puppets set has been sized to fit children and most adults. Kids learn motor skills, hand-eye coordination, communication skills, self-confidence, and more.
  • GIFT FOR KIDS 2 TO 6: These puppets make an exceptional gift for kids ages 2 to 6. Add the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Puppet Theater to round out the pretend play experience and give kids another engaging option for screen-free fun.
  • “THE GOLD STANDARD IN CHILDHOOD PLAY”: For more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that NBC News called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”
Learning Resources Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register - 73 Pieces, Ages 3+ Develops Early Math Skills, Play Cash Register for Kids, Toy Cash Register, Play Money for Kids
  • Cash Register for Kids: Working solar-powered calculator and pretend cash register
  • Encourage Money and Math Skills: Includes 30 actual-size pretend bills, 40 plastic coins, pretend credit card, and activity guide. Pretend bills measure 6.25" x 2.625", pretend coins range from .80" (penny) - .995" (quarter)
  • Realistic Toy Cash Register: Makes a cha-ching sound when the drawer opens
  • This preschool Learning Toy encourages imaginative play
  • This is the perfect math toy for toddlers 3 years and up!


Physical development includes both fine-motor skills (that use the small muscles in the hands and wrists) and gross-motor skills (those that use large muscles like arms, legs, and/or torso.) Generally, a 4-year-old will be able to:


  • Walk forward and backward easily
  • Go up and down stairs with little assistance
  • Balance on one foot for at least 5 seconds
  • Pedal a tricycle
  • Hop, gallop, or jump
  • Attempt to throw and catch a ball
Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Giddy Buggy Crawl-Through Tunnel - Indoor Outdoor Developmental Activity Toy Tunnel For Toddlers And Kids Ages 3+ (Multi color) Frustration-Free Packaging
  • Giddy Buggy will inspire lots of activity with this striped tunnel
  • Perfect indoors or out
  • Durable, wipe-clean materials; this product ships in its own special e-commerce packaging intended to be easier to open and reduce waste
  • 57. 5 x 18 inches diameter when opened to play, 18. 5 x 22 x 3 inches when put away
  • “The gold standard in childhood play”: for more than 30 years, Melissa & Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that nbc news called “the gold standard in early childhood play.”


  • Feed themselves using age-appropriate utensils
  • Stack blocks, use puzzles, and toys with small pieces
  • Begin drawing/writing, i.e. copy letters, names, and basic shapes (Click here for more about the Stages of Emergent Writing in Preschool.)
  • Dress and undress themselves (with little assistance)
  • Use the bathroom and wash their hands (with little assistance) 
Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads - Educational Toy With 30 Wooden Beads and 2 Laces - Beads For Toddlers, Fine Motor Skills Lacing Toys For Toddlers And Kids Ages 3+, 8inx8inx2in, Multi
  • BRIGHTLY COLORED WOODEN BEADS: The Melissa and Doug Primary Lacing Beads set is composed of 30 brightly colored wooden beads in a variety of shapes, 2 colorful laces, and a wooden storage case.
  • EASY TO ASSEMBLE: Our wooden bead play set includes beads in five distinct shapes that are easy for little hands to grasp. The laces are thin enough to allow the beads to fit seamlessly.
  • HELPS DEVELOP STRONG SKILLS: This Melissa and Doug kids beading set helps children develop strong fine motor, cognitive, and visual perception skills, while promoting hand-eye coordination.
  • GIFT FOR AGES 3 TO 5 YEARS: These beads set makes an exceptional gift for kids from 3 to 5 years. Add the Melissa and Doug Lace and Trace activity set to round out the hands-on play experience and give kids another engaging option for screen-free fun.
  • THE GOLD STANDARD IN CHILDHOOD PLAY: For more than 30 years, Melissa and Doug has created beautifully designed imagination- and creativity-sparking products that NBC News called the gold standard in early childhood play.

Here Are Some More of My Posts About Encouraging Typical 4-year-old Development Through Play:

When Should a Caregiver be Concerned?

To close–I always tell caregivers that they know their child best. Therefore, if they see that their child is making little to no progress in any of the aforementioned areas over time –or if they are beginning to see a decline in skills they were once able to do–it would be wise to speak to their pediatrician. I should note that if caregivers have concerns about their child’s overall development they can also reach out to their local public school district. The school can provide information about a developmental screening or evaluation for special services, such as physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy. 

Now talk to me! Do you feel there is pressure from others to have your child reach certain milestones? Please share your comments or questions below.


Ms. Sally

Comments 14

  1. This is a great milestone list for four-year-olds. I have an almost 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter and I will keep this list in mind. I like that you say that social-emotional learning is just as important as academic learning. I agree! This is something that I’m concerned with because my daughter, an only child, has been home with me full time since the start of the pandemic. We’re looking into ways to get her socialized because she hasn’t had regular and consistent opportunities to play with other children and practice taking turns. We’re hoping everything will be better when she turns 4 in August and we can start to get her involved in a preschool-like setting.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found this helpful. You are not alone in your concerns, Dana. But, luckily parents and caregivers can practice these important socialization skills (like turn-taking) during play activities as well. In addition, they can model appropriate social-emotional behaviors during every day routine. 🙂

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