Learning and Development: Children 36 to 48 Months

Most of the time three-to-four year olds are a delight to caregivers and parents. The child tries hard to please and generally becomes more cooperative and enjoy new experiences. Imaginative play becomes more important and the child begins learning to take initiative. Find out more about developmental milestones and learning goals associated with brain development for children ages three to four in each area below:

Physical Characteristics

  • Ability to throw, catch, kick, balance, alternate feet on stairs, hop and skip increases as coordination improves
  • Can build block towers, string beads, pour liquids, draw shapes and objects
  • Can copy simple designs
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Is toilet-trained, but accidents still happen

Learning Goals for Physical Development (Brain Development)

  • Continue to perfect small and large motor skills
  • Develop confidence in abilities
  • Improve eye/hand coordination

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Provide equipment that varies in skill levels like tricycles, tires, hoops, balance beam, ring toss, etc.
  • Prepare open-ended activities with ample time
  • Offer encouragement as children try new things
  • Drawing, painting, crayons, play dough, collage materials
  • Music for dancing
  • Puzzles, building blocks, blocks, snap-together toys
  • Nature walks

Cognitive/Language Characteristics

  • Can follow directions with more than one step
  • Has somewhat longer attention span (10 minutes)
  • Ideas are based on actual experiences
  • Is curious, inquisitive
  • Beginning to mentally visualize objects
  • Is starting to be aware of time (day, night, morning, afternoon)
  • Knows several colors, first and last name
  • Asks for what child wants
  • Responds to comments of others
  • Uses 3-4 word sentences
  • Begins to count
  • Begins to use plurals
  • Has difficulty taking turns in conversation
  • Can give simple accounts of day/experiences
  • Begins to talk more clearly

Learning Goals for Cognitive/Language Development (Brain Development)

  • Symbolically represent objects
  • Reason from particular to particular
  • Focus on one aspect of a situation
  • Develop ability to think out loud and talk through situations
  • Represent thoughts and feelings verbally
  • Learn to plan and organize own activities

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Provide opportunities to sort and classify objects
  • Simple games, such as “follow the leader”
  • Books, construction materials, pattern making, puzzles
  • Musical instruments
  • Provide a variety of settings for language use
  • Talk with children frequently, listen to them carefully
  • Reading and singing activities
  • Establish eye contact when talking to children
  • Dramatic play themes
  • Writing utensils and paper, stamps and stamp pads, puzzles, magazines, chalk boards

Social/Emotional Characteristics

  • Beginning to show self-control
  • Beginning to learn to take turns and to share but may have difficulty
  • Begins to get bossy but learns to play cooperatively
  • Humor emerges
  • Wants to please adults
  • Begins developing friendships and separates more easily from adults to play with friends
  • Imagination plays important role
  • Shows aggression
  • Begins to “tattle”

Learning Goals for Social/Emotional Development (Brain Development)

  • Begin developing a positive self-concept
  • Develop initiative
  • Cooperate with others
  • Express self in another role
  • Learn to share, barter, manage conflict, take turns
  • Learn to feel comfortable with emotions
  • Suggested Activities/MaterialsSupport child’s self-concept and encourage positive self-esteem by praising and showing appreciation
  • Provide opportunities for children to play together
  • Provide activities that allow children to negotiate social conflicts (dramatic play, blocks)
  • Play pretend games, dress-up, theme play
  • Water colors, variety of art experiences

Self-Help Characteristics

  • Can button, unbutton, zip and unzip things
  • Can set the table and serve self
  • Will try to wash hands, brush teeth independently
  • Toilet trained, but accidents can still happen
  • Cleans up spills with help

Learning Goals (Brain Development)

  • Develop self-confidence as he or she can do more things independently
  • Develop more independence

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Cooking activities
  • Encourage children to find toys themselves and set up play area
  • Encourage children to help set table and serve themselves, with help as needed
  • Provide child-size bowls, serving pieces, pitchers
  • Sit with children during meals, encouraging conversation
  • Consistently provide a clean-up time after each activity, encouraging all children to participate


  • Classroom should contain a bathroom, tables for eating, and interest areas divided into the following centers: art, blocks, books, manipulatives, science, sand, weather, music, dramatic play, and large motor area. Learning materials and equipment should be stored on the children’s level
  • Outdoor area should have areas of shade and sun with resilient ground cover. An area for riding toys should be provided. Swings, low climbers, playhouse, slide, and sand area with sand toys should be provided
  • Individual attention, close supervision, and responsive caregiving are critical to future development