Progress Report: Your Preschooler's Milestones

Your child's milestones may not be as obvious as they once were, but they're still a big deal.
Child clapping

Alexandra Grablewski

Remember when you could track your baby's developmental milestones as expertly as any pediatrician? Now that your child's a preschooler, the benchmarks aren't as apparent. Instead of making big motor advances, 3- and 4-year-olds are going through intellectual developments that are harder to pinpoint.

Milestones at this age may not be as in your face, but there are still plenty of fascinating changes afoot. "You can expect impressive progress in your child's ability to communicate, do basic problem-solving, and take care of his own needs," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Toddler 411. Check out what experts say your child will be able to do during the threes and fours.

Tell a Joke

Your kid's sense of humor should become apparent to you at this age. She may begin experimenting with knock-knock jokes, slapstick basics (like pretending to walk into a wall), or absurdist zingers such as, "I can't hear you because I have Jell-O in my ears!" She'll also recognize when something is out of the ordinary and wacky, which is the basis of a lot of humor, says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, M.D., editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics book Baby & Child Health: The Essential Guide From Birth to 11 Years. "If you're pulling her leg, she will comment on it, like 'Those shorts don't belong on your head; that's silly!'"

Construct a Complex Sentence

Your child's vocabulary is ballooning at this age. "A 3-year-old should have between 500 and 1,000 words, and a 4-year-old may have several thousand," says Dr. Brown. Whereas your child once let you know what he wanted in the most efficient way possible ("Banana. Now."), he is constructing complete sentences at age 3, and by 4 he'll be stringing together multiple phrases to tell you breathless stories about his day. The best way to expand your kid's vocab and improve his language skills is to turn storytime into an interactive affair. When you encounter a new word, pause and ask him if he knows its meaning. And after finishing the story, ask open-ended questions about the plot.

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