It seems like only yesterday that you were dropping your child off for the first day of preschool. There may have been tears shed (from both of you) as this transition from the home setting to a formal school took place. Fast forward eight months and here we are – what a difference a year makes! Let’s take a look at preschool transitions, a typical child’s progress, and what to expect when moving up to the next level.


Two-year-old children not only grow by leaps and bounds but also learn to leap and bound! Lots of big things happen with the large muscles (gross motor skills) as well as development in small muscle movement (fine motor skills). By the end of the school year most two-year-olds have learned to do the following:

Gross Motor Skills

  • Walk, run, and start learning to jump with both feet
  • Pull or carry toys while walking
  • Throw and kick a ball; try to catch with both hands
  • Stand on tiptoes and balance on one foot
  • Climb on furniture and playground equipment
  • Climb stairs, holding on to the railing; may alternate feet

Fine Motor Skills

  • Start brushing own teeth and hair
  • May pull pants up and down
  • Turn on the faucet and wash hands
  • Build a block tower of at least four blocks
  • Start practicing snaps and zipping up (if you start the zip)
  • Hold utensils and crayons with fingers instead of a fist, although the grasp still may not be quite right

Cognitive Skills – Let’s Think!

  • Enjoy more complicated pretend play, like pretending that a box is a spaceship or assigning characters when playing
  • Remember and talk about things that happened in the past, using phrases like “the other day” or “a long time ago”
  • Complete a three to four-piece puzzle
  • Group toys by type, size, or color
  • Recite favorite books and nursery rhymes with you
  • May follow two-step directions, such as “Take off your coat and hang it up.”

Verbal Skills – Absorbing and Expressing

  • Understand the words for familiar people, everyday objects, and body parts
  • Use a variety of single words by 18 months and speak in sentences of two to four words by 24 months (may combine nouns and verbs, like “Daddy eat”) have a vocabulary of 200+ words by 36 months
  • Repeat words they hear
  • Start asking “what’s that?” and “why?”
  • Begin using plurals (cats) and basic pronouns (me, you)

Two-year-olds start to be more independent and more interested in other kids. But not having the words to express themselves can frustrate them, at times. By the end of this year, kids will likely do things like this:

  • Mimic what other kids and adults do and say, as well as how they say it
  • Be happy to play near, if not with, other kids
  • Start to realize they can do things without your help
  • Disobey more than before, doing things they’re told not to do, just to test what happens
  • Children become increasingly independent and aware of themselves as individuals by 24 – 36 months.


The main focus of three-year-olds is to continue building the gross and fine motor skills they developed as two-year-olds. Most three-year-olds learn to do things like these by the time they are four:

  • Run and walk without tripping over own feet
  • Jump, hop, and stand on one foot
  • Walk backward and climb stairs with alternating feet
  • Kick and throw a small ball; catch a bigger ball most of the time
  • Climb
  • Start pedaling a tricycle or bike

Fine Motor Skills

  • Draw a circle with a crayon, pencil or marker
  • Play with toys with small moving parts and buttons
  • Turn the pages of a book one at a time
  • Build with Mega Bloks and create towers of six or more blocks
  • Work door handles and twist-on bottle tops

Cognitive Skills – Big Thinkers

  • Name the eight colors in a crayon box (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, black)
  • Recite numbers to 10 and start counting groups of things
  • Start understanding time in terms of morning, night, and days of the week
  • Remember and retell favorite stories
  • Understand and talk about things that are the “same” and “different”
  • Follow simple three-step directions (“Brush your teeth, wash your face, and put on your pajamas.”)

Verbal Skills Expand Exponentially!

  • Use the basic rules of grammar, but make mistakes with words that don’t follow the rules, like saying “mouses” instead of “mice”
  • Speak well enough that most strangers can understand what they are saying
  • Use five or six words in a sentence and have a two-to-three sentence conversation
  • Tell you their name, the name of at least one friend and the names of most common objects
  • Understand words like “in,” “on,” “behind” and “next”
  • Ask “why” questions to get more information about things (sometimes repeatedly!)

Three-year-olds are an interesting mix! They alternate from being playful, to cautious, to independent. At the end of the year most children this age:

  • Are interested in – although hesitant about – going new places and trying new things
  • Start to play with other children (as opposed to only playing side by side)
  • Start being able to comfort and show concern for an unhappy friend without prompting
  • Take turns while playing (even if they don’t like to)
  • Play “real life” with toys like play kitchens
  • Start finding simple ways to solve arguments and disagreements
  • Show (but maybe not name) a variety of emotions beyond happy, sad, and mad


What are typical skills four-year-olds acquire by age five? In addition to putting on five or more pounds and growing several inches, they develop many new skills very quickly. Eyesight continues to get better too, so coordination also improves. Here are other things a child this age may do by the end of the year:

Gross Motor Skills

  • Control movement more easily; start, stop, turn, and go around obstacles while running
  • Log roll, do somersaults, skip, and trot
  • Get dressed with minimal help (zippers, snaps, and buttons may still be a little hard)
  • Throw and bounce a ball
  • Jump over objects and climb playground ladders
  • Pedal and steer a tricycle or bike

Fine Motor Skills

  • Draw or copy basic shapes and crosses (this is known as “being able to cross the midline”)
  • Write and recognize most/all upper and lower case letters
  • Stack a tower at least 10 blocks high
  • Use scissors more easily and cut on lines
  • String beads or O-shaped cereal to make necklaces
  • Pinch and shape clay or play dough into recognizable objects

Cognitive Skills – Concrete and Abstract

  • Understand the difference between real and make-believe
  • Understand that pictures and symbols stand for real things
  • Explore relationships between ideas, using words like “if” and “when” to express them
  • Start thinking in logical steps, which means seeing the “how-tos” and consequences of things
  • Get abstract ideas like “bigger,” “less,” “later,” “ago” and “soon”
  • Put things in order such as from biggest to smallest, shortest to tallest
  • Stick with an activity for 10 to 15 minutes

Verbal Skills – Off and Running!

  • Have a vocabulary more than 1,000 words
  • Use complex sentences that combine more than one thought
  • Start asking who, what, why, when, and where questions – and maybe even can answer some too. 
  • Sing silly songs, make up goofy words and start rhyming
  • Follow simple, unrelated directions (“Go find your shoes and pick up that toy.”)
  • Change speech patterns depending on who the conversation is with, such as speaking in short sentences to a younger sibling
  • Ask for the definition of unfamiliar words
  • Make up stories and talk about what he’s thinking
  • Argue, even though the argument might not be logical

This is when children are developing unique personalities. They may get along with peers better and work out things that bother them through play. Most children can also:

  • Share, cooperate, be helpful, and take turns
  • Start acting a little bossy and start tattling
  • Enjoy telling silly jokes and find other things funny
  • Begin telling small lies to get out of trouble, even though they know it is wrong
  • Do or say things they shouldn’t to see what the reaction will be
  • Have imaginary friends and play the same imaginary games over and over

Moving On to the Next Stage

Your child may focus on one growth area at a time or be making progress on multiple skills simultaneously. Each child follows a unique path. Celebrate and be proud of all that your child has accomplished and help them prepare with excitement for the next stage. You’ll see the confidence grow day-by-day and week-by-week!

Enjoy each stage of your child’s growth with its experimenting and questions. You are your child’s first and forever teacher. There will be many other teachers in life, but it will be your guidance that is valued the most!