At a glance
Four-year-olds gain many new skills this year.
Kids don’t all develop at the same rate.
Kids who don’t meet many milestones may need help getting there.
If you think 4-year-olds are hard to keep up with, it’s probably because they develop lots of new skills very quickly this year. Still, you may wonder what a typical 4-year-old is able to do.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of milestones, which it updated with many changes in 2022. The agency moved some of the milestones to different age ranges, which some experts question.
The CDC milestones below can help you know what to expect. If your child isn’t meeting these milestones, it can point to possible developmental delays. Talk with your child’s doctor or other health care provider. And if your child is in preschool, share your concerns with the teacher.
You can also learn more about:
- Pretends to be something else during play (teacher, superhero, dog)
- Asks to go play with children if none are around, like “Can I play with Alex?”
- Comforts others who are hurt or sad, like hugging a crying friend
- Knows to avoid danger, like not jumping from tall heights at the playground
- Likes to be a “helper”
- Changes behavior to fit the setting (the grocery store versus the playground)
- Says sentences with four or more words
- Says some words from a song, story, or nursery rhyme
- Talks about at least one thing that happened during the day, like “I played soccer.”
- Answers simple questions like “What is a coat for?” or “Where’s the dog?”
Cognitive milestones (learning, thinking, problem-solving)
- Names the color of items correctly
- Tells what comes next in a well-known story
- Draws a person with three or more body parts
Movement/physical development milestones
- Catches a large ball most of the time
- Pours water or serves themselves food, with adult supervision
- Unbuttons some buttons
- Holds crayon or pencil between fingers and thumb (not a fist)
Kids don’t all develop at the same rate. Some 4-year-olds are a bit behind their peers, and some are ahead of schedule. But if your child hasn’t met many of these milestones, it’s important to find out why.
Talk with your child’s health care provider about what might help your child catch up. Be sure to ask about evaluation options for special education support from your local school.
Take a look forward at developmental milestones for 5-year-olds.
Four-year-olds typically use sentences with four or more words.
They like to be helpers and they comfort people who are upset.
Not meeting many milestones could be signs of a developmental delay.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.