Is your Preschooler on Track – 3-4 Year Old Milestones

Preschool is a wonderful time for your little one. They are like sponges and absorb everything.

From the time children are born till they turn 3 years old, they will learn more than at any other point in their lives. Think about that! Their minds are incredible learning machines. We decided to put our daughter in preschool at 2 years old. This was the time a lot of our friends made the choice.  We were not totally ready but we could see how she could benefit from it.

The social interaction alone was enough for us to make the move. I was teaching her a lot at home and while she was well above a lot of her peers academically, she was very shy and very hesitant to make friends. We put her in school 3 days a week for 4 hours. This was more than enough for us and she thrived.

Because I am a bit of a helicopter mom, I like to know how she is doing all the time. I like to know what she is learning and make sure she is getting as much out of preschool as possible. If she is away from me, she should be learning a lot. I decided to make a checklist for each age and test her myself. This way I could know for sure it was worth the time away.

If your child is 3-4 they should be able to:

Cognitive Skills: Level 1

  • Know their full name, age, and gender
  • Identify and name basic colors
  • Count to ten; understand the concept of counting
  • Say the alphabet
  • Identify basic shapes
  • Follow two-step or three-part commands
  • Build a tower with four or more blocks
  • Understand time better (for example, morning, afternoon, night)
  • Recognize and identify common objects and pictures

Cognitive Skills: Level 2

  • Know their address and telephone number of a parent
  • Write some capital letters
  • Laugh at silly ideas or jokes
  • Remember parts of a story
  • Sort objects by shape and color
  • Play make-believe with dolls, toys or other people
  • Pretend and fantasize more creatively
  • Understand “before,” “after,” “now,” “soon” and “later”
  • Remember what happened yesterday
  • Know where playthings belong; Help clean up
  • Understand some important safety rules (don’t touch the hot stove; stay away from the window)
  • Pay attention for about 3 minutes

Fine Motor Skills:

  • Dress and undress without your help
  • Screw and unscrew jar lids
  • Turn rotating handles
  • More easily handle small objects and turn a page in a book
  • Complete age appropriate puzzles
  • Use age-appropriate scissors
  • Copy circles and squares
  • Draw a person with two to four body parts
  • Spell their own name
  • Be able to write their own name (while tracing or not)


(The level system, 1 and 2 are my own. I found that a young 3-year-old and an almost 4-year-old are SO different. If your child just turned 3, cognitive skills level 1 is where they should be. If they are almost 4, cognitive skills level 2 is where they should be. Again this is my personal opinion. If your child can do everything and they are a young 3, awesome! My daughter could do a lot of this when she turned 3 it is simply that every child is different.)

This is a touchstone. Here is a printable so you can have it handy and check off the skills as you see them! It is by no means an exhaustive list. It is the list I have used to make sure my daughter is growing and learning while in preschool. 4K is coming up quickly and I want her to be as prepared as possible. If I have found if she is lagging in something, making a game out of it seems to help her learn. I will be featuring some of those coming up soon.

The biggest thing is that your child is healthy and happy. They are going to be learning for the rest of their lives in school. If you as their parent can teach through living that is the best answer. They are only this little once. Enjoy every second and let them show you the wonder and craziness that early childhood has to offer.

What are your favorite learning tools for 3-4-year-olds?


Kristin – The Perfectionist Mom

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  • Marcie

    This is so interesting! My son just turned 3 at the end of December and he can do a lot of these things, but I hadn’t thought to teach him our home address or phone number. And I haven’t tried writing letters with him yet. This is good motivation!

  • Jessi

    Interesting. My daughter is about to turn 4 and I will agree that the difference between young 3 and almost 4 is HUGE! I say she is well on track. She isn’t the best with hand writing but getting there.

  • CoCo

    I think it its important to make sure you child is on track but it is also important not to be too wrapped up in comparing your child to others! Each child is different and develops at his/her own pace

  • Angela

    My LO is not at this age group yet but I find it very educational to see what to expect once she does reach this point. Great work and love that I can print the list!

  • Joanna @ Everyday Made Fresh

    I can not stress how important these steps are for preparing for prek4. I worked as a teachers aide for three years in a prek4 classroom and I was shocked at what all they expected them to know before they even got there! So many of those kids were just behind, and it caused so many behavioral problems. Of course then again…..I’ll be honest….if I were to do it all over again, I would have homeschooled my kids (I do now, but my youngest is in the 6th grade), and they would have been playing in the yard making mud pies, blowing bubbles, playing with playdoh, finger painting, building with blocks, and using their imagination at that age. The Swiss have a better school system and smarter kids because they don’t make kids this age learn these things. Again, if I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently with what I know now, compared to then.
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  • Jeanine

    My 3 year old seems to be! It’s so funny just recently he’s been calling himself by his full name we’ll hear him playing with one of the kids and saying, “and I’m Justin Nickolas!” its. way too cute.

  • Debra

    I so hard not to compare you kids to everyone elses but it’s always important to remember that they all grow at their own rate too!

  • Stephanie Lee

    What a great and inclusive list! It’s so fun to see what’s ahead for the kids. It’s true that every child develops on their own schedule, but it’s also great to have a guideline of things that can be worked on at home.

  • Tereza

    This is such a useful post for all mums – I’ve never thought of it (I’m not a mum) but it must be so difficult to keep track of these things! Thank you for sharing such a useful post xx

  • Jen K

    I am like you and like to know what my kids are learning. My oldest is in 3rd grade. I never hear from his teacher. It has been such an adjustment for me to not know what is going on at all times. It shows my baby is growing up 🙁
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  • Mandy Carter

    Travel experiences are my favorite ways to share learning moments with my kids. I worried about learning milestones with my first child but with my second I realized they learn at their own pace regardless.

  • Lydia

    I don’t have any kids but this is SO great to know!! I nanny a 3 year old but he’s so smart, I’m sure he’s definitely on track!

  • Kim

    I just read this with a fine tooth comb! I have a 3 year old boy and he isn’t in school yet. Next Fall he’ll start. We are potty training right now!

  • Kiwi

    This is an awesome tracker for parents with children 3-4 years old. I know people wonder if their kids are up to speed by the time they are in kindergarten so this will help them see how well the kids are doing.

  • Brittany

    This is a great list. My little one just turned 4 two days ago and we are right on track with most of this except for the concept of time – everything seems to be tomorrow or yesterday.

  • Breyona Sharpnack

    my 3rd child just turned 3 and I am noticing some of the milestones he is meeting and exceeding. these are great guidelines to see where your child is at or where they may need a little push all while keeping in mind every child develops at their own little rate.

  • Vaishnavi

    Wow, this is so informative. Serves as a lovely checklist as to what to look for at this age. Love that you’ve included cognitive levels and fine motor milestones – some of those are not so obvious ones that I would have watched out for.

  • Tiffany

    I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old and 1 on the way… My 3 and 1 year olds both qualify for preschool but we didn’t enroll them because of were we live. I’ve been teaching things to my 3 year old since he turned 2 and in my opinion he dose really good. We do days weeks and months calender every day and he can spell his name and stuff he’s having troubles with his colors he calls everything red and he didn’t like to color much. He can say the alphabet but I get frustrated trying to write with him. I hate that I do but IDK how to fix that. My family is concerned I give him to much to learn and that I will burn him out. Hell never want to go to school and it will be all my fault. Can this happen or not cuz I’m going crazy in my head about this. Thanks

    • MOMentous Moms

      Hi Tiffany, It is a good question. First of all, you will not make him not want to go to school. They have no concept of what school is and when they are eventually there it will be different. They will have friends, teachers, a new environment, so everything will be a new experience. Keep any talk about school positive and they will have no reason to think badly about it.

      There are a couple of different opinions on the subject of early learning but here is what I have found. The most important aspect of teaching your kids is let them have fun. If you find ways to make learning things like colors, the alphabet, numbers, or shapes FUN they will learn automatically. Try not to drill them, instead use songs, puzzles, fun apps, and games. The more fun you think the activity is the more they will like it. They enjoy seeing you smile and laugh and it helps them learn organically.

      Writing is a whole different beast, it is challenging. I get easily frustrated with my daughter and she is 4. Using tracing in the beginning was very helpful. There are cheap workbooks you can find at any dollar store or Target. They have bright fun colors which make them want to use it. Remember to give him chunky crayons and such to start and move on to smaller pencils. You can do it!

  • Deborah

    I agree with MOMentous Mom about making things fun for your children to learn. I worry that preschools are expecting too much from our children at such a young age. My best tip is to read to your children and let them see you reading. The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease now in it’s eighth edition helped me out so much. Reading is so important for your children. Libraries offer so much and they are free. Even if you can’t take them on trips in a car, they can take trips by reading to them. Find out what your child is interested in and then you can teach them about it while talking or doing things that incorporate colors and numbers and letters. Do they like trucks? Talk about the one yellow truck. Read a book about trucks. Truck starts with the letter T. Paint with yellow. Wash the yellow truck. Paint with trucks. I substituted in a childcare that used worksheets. Yuck. Some of the most important learning will not be something you can take home and show the parents.

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