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The preschool years are an exciting and rewarding time for both you and your child, but they can also be a period of worry and doubt for parents who aren’t quite sure of the developmental milestones their children should reach between three and five years of age. Few things are more frightening than the idea that your child isn’t developing along the normal timeline and may be exhibiting signs of developmental delays. In order to either allay these fears or take the appropriate action in order to address any potential concerns, you must first learn what the primary cognitive developmental milestones and goals are for this particular age group.
Primary Cognitive Milestones During the Preschool Years
Between the ages of three and four, your child will be growing and learning at a rapid pace. New skills are constantly being acquired and improved upon. Most children will be starting to assert their independence on a larger scale. In addition to the desire to do things for themselves and to explore new concepts, there are some key cognitive goals that you should be working towards and milestones your child should be reaching, according to data released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  1. Color Recognition – While a preschooler probably won’t be able to correctly differentiate between “lavender” and “periwinkle,” she should have a basic grasp of color recognition and be able to name basic hues. By the time she reaches four years of age, your child should be able to identify basic colors, like red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black and brown. Actually, color recognition skills are typically separated into three separate aspects: naming, matching and identification. If you hold up a piece of red construction paper, your child should be able to locate an object within the room that is the same color or select an identical piece of paper from a stack of multicolored sheets. She can perceive the differences between red and other colors, and is able to demonstrate that ability. When asked what color crayon she’s using, your child should be able to accurately identify it or to find a blue crayon when asked to do so. By telling you what color she’s using or producing the one you’ve asked for, your child is demonstrating the ability to identify and name colors, respectively.
  2. Counting and Number Concepts – The ability to understand the concept of numbers and to accurately count at least five objects is a cognitive milestone that most children will reach between three and four years of age. From simple concepts of quantity like “more” and “less” or vague measurements like “bigger” and “smaller” to basic addition, your child should be able to understand what numbers are and how they apply to the world around her. When confronted with five apples, your child should be able to count them accurately. She should also be able to understand basic addition and subtraction when you take some away or place more apples in front of her. When you tell your child that you have three crackers and she has two, she should be able to tell you how many crackers are at the table, collectively.
  3. Following Commands – Your willful preschooler may not always follow directions when she’s feeling particularly impudent or isn’t paying attention. Still, she should be demonstrating the ability to follow three-part commands under most circumstances. Commands like “Go to your room, find your shoes and bring them to me,” should not be too much for her to grasp or retain. As long as your directions are clear and concise, she should have little to no trouble following three-part directions. The Nemours Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media outlet KidsHealth.org states that the average vocabulary size for a child between four and five years of age is between one to two thousand words. In addition to following simple, three-part commands, your preschooler should be able to speak in complete sentences that incorporate five words or more. She should also be capable of giving simple directions when prompted.
  4. Recollection and Memory – Your preschooler should also be exhibiting the ability to recall names, specific events and parts of a story after it’s been read to her. She should be able to remember the next step in a familiar activity, or things that happened within the last few days. Larger and more important events may be recalled weeks or even months after the fact. During the preschool years, your child’s brain is developing rapidly. One of the areas in which she should be reaching developmental milestones is an increased capacity for memory and recollection.
  5. Engaging in Imaginative and Fantasy Play – Kids learn about the world through play, and explore more complex concepts through the safety of imaginative play. Your preschooler should be creating fantasy constructs or imaginative role-play scenarios without prompting. This is the age at which most children will begin to “play house” with dolls or toy kitchens, or fabricate games of make-believe without being fed concepts or ideas.

While these are the most common milestones for preschool-aged children, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both advise parents that there may be some deviation from the timeline that’s still well within the bounds of “normal” development. It’s also normal to have concerns or questions about the rate at which your child is reaching these milestones. If you’re feeling those concerns, you should speak to her pediatrician or family physician to schedule an evaluation or learn more about potential developmental delays.