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child development
YOUR 3-4 YEAR OLD
AN ACTIVE, FUN & CURIOUS AGE

KEY ACHIEVEMENTS
• Budding Gymnasts – exploring and refining physical mobility
• Who am I? – evolving and understanding body image and self
• The play age – developing social imagination and physical awareness
• From explorers to wonderers to questioners
• Past, present and future – emerging sense of time and space
• Vocal and verbal humour – exploring the borders between the familiar and the supernatural world
• Storytelling – re-enacting and narrating events that matter

What to expect?
A 3-4 year-olds’ walking and running techniques are almost fully developed. The children’s increased physical freedom and new-found mobility paves the way to a growing interest for exploring everything around. This is the age where children begin to ask a hundred questions like: Where do I come from? What will I be like when I grow up? Why is the moon following me?

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ME



USING OUR BODIES

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?
At this age children are able to walk and run and are now ready to perfect their “athletic skills”. They enjoy jumping on the trampoline and climbing up rope ladders. In general, they explore their newfound mobility through physical activities.
What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
This is the age where children ask to visit parks and playgrounds to further improve their physical skills and share their enthusiasm with peers. When the children are indoors, they like to cut out things, colour, draw and scribble, with a great attention to details. At this age the children are both excited and obsessed with detail, which helps them improve their fine as well as large motor-skills.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Taking on the role as a supportive play partner will help develop the 3-4 year olds’ body awareness and motor skills and lay the foundation for a positive self-image and understanding. To enhance large-motor-skills, such as throwing and kicking, try to use oversized targets and focus less on accuracy. For catching skills use large colourful and soft textured balls. For jumping skills focus on variations of big jumps. For balancing skills use beams or planks that vary in width, height and angle of incline. To enhance fine-motor-skills, let the child draw, scribble, cut out and glue, snap on things. Always remember, fine and large motor skills go hand in hand.

KNOWING OURSELVES

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?

At this age the children start to distinguish between their own and other people’s feelings and actions. 3-4 year olds begin to notice gender differences and people’s physical appearance. They are intrigued by people’s moods, like happy, or angry or sad. In their play, the children like to dress up, and mimic these moods

What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
To make sense of all these new impressions of their surroundings the children come up with their own explanations for how they feel – I got sick because mom got mad at me etc. When feeling upset, scared or uncomfortable, a thumb, a favourite toy or blanket can provide reliable comfort for 3-4 year old children.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Help the children to differentiate between their feelings and their actions. Play games that help them explore their physical appearance in terms of similarities and differences to peers. Help them understand that people come in many shapes and colours, and that difference is a good thing. Avoid gender stereotyping. In response to their curiosity, answer simply but accurately.

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US



RELATING TO OTHERS

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?

At this age children are lively, imaginative and playful. They are eager to share the fun with other people who seem to care. 3-4 year olds begin to take initiatives and create social bonds with their peers. While they have become fairly decent play buddies, it is not always easy for them to negotiate when they cannot have what they want.
What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
At this age, children enjoy turn-taking and role-playing games, which help them learn about the benefits and costs of sharing. Being 3-4 years old it is normal trying to boss around and teach their dolls or teddy bears how to behave. In general at this age, the children are sociable and friendly. They enjoy helping out in household tasks.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Help enhance the children’s social skills by increasing the amount of time they get to be with their peers. If they watch TV encourage them to do so with friends, and play out what they have just watched. Parents can always be an audience. Involve them in everyday life as they love to play with things associated with the grown up world, such as kitchen utensils and money. Try to create play scenarios around cooking or fixing things.

UNDERSTANDING OTHERS

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?
The most significant development for 3-4 year olds is that they begin to relate to thoughts and feelings other than their own. Children this age now sense when they hurt or offend people around them. They are now fascinated by small animals and babies or in general anything smaller or weaker than themselves. Another result of their newfound awareness is their ability to “manipulate” other people to achieve their desires. Despite this new awareness they still face difficulties unmasking correct or false beliefs from others.

What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
The children express their newfound awareness of people around them by engaging and contributing to adult conversations. In doing so, they learn the importance of etiquette, and pecking orders. They get to know when and when not to use polite expressions like: Please, may I, thank you and in which situations it is allowed to say “poo-poo”, or demand their will.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Lead by example, show you understand the children and they will return the empathy. Show trust and allow them to take care of younger siblings, a pet animal, or even a Tamagotchi in order for them to enjoy the task of caring for others. Participate as much as possible in their pretend and role playing when they invite you to do so.

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WORLD



EXPLORING THE WORLD

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?
At this age children are curious and fascinated with the origins of things, including themselves. They wonder how things work, and how people behave. They wonder about the passage of time. They come up with their own theories about how the world around them works, which are often based on what they know about themselves.
What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
Children at this age relentlessly explore things, and they ask a hundred questions. They get a kick out of realizing that, at some point, no one will be able to answer their “why” questions

How to encourage and support a 3-4 year-olds’ interests and abilities?
Encourage the children to develop their own theories on how the world works. Regardless of how poetic and fantastical their world views might be, avoid imposing adult-correct knowledge upon them. Their clever abilities in coming up with answers to the world will help them foster a natural curiosity that will prepare them for life and school.

MAKING SENSE OF FINDINGS

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?

At this age the concepts of time and space are very closely linked to concrete events like time for lunch or time for bed. The children are generally fascinated with the “hidden order” behind the appearance things, as well as with the scale and timing of things, despite the fact that they cannot even count or measure yet and their sense of space-time is still not fully in place.

What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
Children at this age enjoy playing hide and seek. They like to play with structured materials or toys, where order or sequence is important like DUPLO bricks. Children also improve their understanding of how things relate to each other by being allowed to set the table or putting their clothes away in the right drawers.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Help the children understand the special dimensions of time by explaining them the idea of days, weeks, months, years and seasons. Come up with small activities to help the children explore the relationship between time and space. Ask them: “How long do you think it will take you to run to that tree and back again”.

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CREATIVITY



CREATING FORMS AND EXPRESSIONS

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?At this age children like to express themselves through enactments and storytelling. Despite not knowing how to write and read yet, they produce vast amounts of “writings”. The scribbles may not mean much to adults but when asked, the children are able to explain what every line and shade stands for.
What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
3 to 4 year olds spend much of their time improving their scribbles into more drawing-like outcomes. They like to imitate others through creative expressions based on language, art, music and dance. In addition, they enjoy exploring their creative potential through building complex structures with snap-together toys like DUPLO bricks, simple construction toys or shaping play dough.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Encourage the children to make, scribble, write, and do arts-and-crafts. Give them crayons, finger paint and play dough. Participate in their creative exploration, play and build with them, dance and read with them. Offer simple scripts, or story-starters they can build on. Be an interested audience and be careful not to hurry the children to learn how to write and read. Remember scribbling is to drawing what babbling is to talking. You need to learn how to crawl before you can walk.

IMAGINING POSSIBILITIES

What are 3-4 year olds interested in and able to do?

At this age the children begin to engage in simple forms of pretend play. They may pretend they are a thing or another person. Humour becomes important here. So does the child’s appreciation for silliness. The children also know when they are playing or being serious and when they have gone too far in their play and will excuse themselves with statements like, “I was only joking”.

What specific things will 3-4 year olds like to engage in?
The 3-4 year-olds’ language skills are increasing and so are their abilities to fantasise and make up unrealistic scenarios. By talking to themsleves the children will come up with their own words, worlds and rhyming sentences like; “teenie, meanie, beanie” and make up imaginative characters while imitating other people’s words and actions to tease.

How to encourage and support 3-4 year olds’ interests and abilities?
Let your children play and play with your children. Fantasy and real life situational play is a great way to stimulate children’s intellectual and social skills. Also encourage this exploration by setting up play dates with their peers and provide them with dress up items to facilitate role play and fantasy development.

Click here to download the "Early Childhood Years: Ages 1-4 Years" .pdf from the Whole Child Development Guide.