Tips for Knowing if Your 4-Year-Old Is on Track
Welcome to the preschool years! Your 4-year-old cruises through the developmental milestones as she starts preschool and nears the first day of kindergarten. Before you panic about missed milestones, remember that kids all develop in unique ways, and a wide range of skills are perfectly normal at age 4. Learning about the typical 4-year-old academic skills helps you determine if your little one is progressing as expected.
Shows Beginning Reading Skills
By age 4, your little one starts to show signs of reading readiness. He recognizes that the words printed on the page have meaning, even if he doesn't know how to read them yet. You know that book he begs you to read over and over? He's probably starting to memorize the words and can say the story with you. He may be able to retell you the highlights of the story on his own.
Most 4-year-olds are also starting to figure out how books work. They know how to hold a book. They know they need to start at the front and turn the pages to reach the back. Your little one probably knows that reading goes from the left to the right side of the page. These are all the foundation skills he needs to start reading on his own.
This age group also starts to learn more about sounds and letters. Your 4-year-old should recognize at least some letters and understand that they each make a different sound. Preschoolers start to identify rhyming words and can tell if two words have the same beginning sound.
Demonstrates Greater Language Development
As much as your 4-year-old talks, you won't be surprised to learn that kids at this age have an average vocabulary of 4,000 to 6,000 words. You don't need to track those words. Kids who continue expanding their vocabularies are usually right on track. If your child seems to have a very limited vocabulary or isn't regularly adding new words to her vocabulary, check with her doctor.
You may also notice her sentences have more substance. Instead of sentences that are only a few words long, she strings together sentences of at least four or five words. You might notice greater variety in the sentences she creates, including the use of future tense.
Her recall also improves. Now is the time to teach your 4-year-old her full name and address. She's old enough to remember it, and it's very important in an emergency situation. She can also remember and retell the stories she hears. Her own stories might become longer and more involved. You can give her directions that involve two or three steps, and she should be able to complete all them.
Uses Comparison Skills
As your child reaches the preschool age, he starts to notice the differences in objects. He can compare objects based on a certain feature. He might be able to sort out objects of a certain color or say which object is bigger than the other one. Your little one should be able to understand what it means to say something is the same or different.
Identifies a Variety of Objects and Their Uses
By age 4, your little one knows lots of different objects. She should have a basic idea of what objects are used for, especially items she sees on a regular basis like the appliances in your home. She also starts to recognize different colors. By age 4, she should be able to identify and name at least four different colors, but she may know more.
Starts Using Math Knowledge
Your little one is starting to show signs of math awareness. He might recognize some of the numbers, for example. Counting skills develop around this time. Your 4-year-old should be able to count 10 or more objects. That's a little different from just reciting numbers. Correlating a number with an object to actually count it requires a stronger grasp of basic math skills.
At this stage, 4-year-olds also start to understand the concept of time better than before. Don't expect your 4-year-old to read a clock, but it's easier to understand things like what happens in the morning versus what happens at night.
Develops Physical Skills Used in School
Physical development has an impact on academics in the preschool years. By 4, kids start to have better control over the fine motor skills that let them write, cut and pick up objects. Your little one should be able to copy basic shapes, use scissors, stack at least 10 blocks and write some letters. Your 4-year-old should also be able to physically handle most self-care tasks such as going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating and brushing teeth.
When to Check With Your Pediatrician
Not every 4-year-old hits all the academic milestones at the same time. Your child can be OK academically even without recognizing letters or counting objects just yet. You should notice continual growth in those academic areas, though. If your 4-year-old isn't making progress toward those academic skills, it may signal a delay.
Talk to your child's doctor if you have any concerns or if your 4-year-old shows the following signs:
- Struggles to hold a crayon
- Can't handle basic self-care like brushing teeth or washing hands
- Can't build a tower at least eight blocks high
- Doesn't scribble
- Has difficulty with make-believe play
- Doesn't understand the difference between reality and fantasy
- Doesn't want to play with other kids
- Is unable to retell a basic story
- Can't follow two- or three-part directions
- Struggles to understand what it means to be the same or different
- Is difficult to understand when speaking
- Doesn't know his first and last name
- Incorrectly uses the words "me" and "you"
- Regresses in the skills he has
Many early intervention programs are available if your child does have a developmental delay, so talk to your pediatrician as soon as you have concerns. With appropriate interventions, your preschooler can get back on track.