Child development: Preschoolers (3-5 years old)

Emerging Minds, Australia, January 2024

Related to Child development

Download a printable copy of Child development: Preschoolers (3-5 years old)


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child. We also appreciate that every child is unique and has different strengths, vulnerabilities and experiences that shape their health and development.

Understanding how a child’s reactions, thoughts, behaviours and sense of control are influenced by their development can help you imagine what life is like for your child right now. Knowing what children are (and aren’t) likely to be able to do and understand at their current age helps you respond in ways that support their positive development and mental health.

This fact sheet describes the main developmental experiences and capabilities of preschoolers around 3-5 years old, and offers ways parents, family members and other adults can support children’s healthy development and wellbeing.

Key things to remember about children’s development:

  • Every child grows and develops at their own pace, and so their developmental journey is unique. Some children master certain skills earlier than others and some take longer or need a bit more help and direction.
  • A child’s development is shaped by their unique genes as well as their relationships and experiences at home and in the other places they learn and play.
  • Neurodivergent children and children with a physical or intellectual disability may think, move, communicate and/or process senses differently, which can influence their developmental pathway.
  • The best way to support your child’s development and wellbeing is to provide a safe and secure environment and respond warmly, consistently and appropriately to their needs.

A note about developmental ‘stages’ and ‘milestones’

Health professionals and other resources may refer to ‘stages’ of development or lists of developmental ‘milestones’ to check whether a child’s development is ‘on track’ or if there are any areas of concern. Milestones are specific skills or capabilities children typically develop by certain ages. Milestones are based on neurotypical processes and can’t reflect the unique characteristics and experiences of each child. For this reason, we’ve chosen not to refer to specific ‘stages’ or ‘milestones’ in this resource.

Children’s development from three to five years old

In their preschool years (from around 3–5 years old), children are becoming more independent and curious about their world and learning lots of new skills. They’re often also completely egocentric (focused only on what they need or want).

During these years, children’s worlds often expand as they spend time in new environments, like daycare or kindergarten. They typically develop everyday skills, like being able to dress themselves, and greater independence – wanting to choose what they wear or eat, for example. As they get older, they become more imaginative in their play and usually become interested in making friends with other children around the same age.

That said, parent/s and family members are still preschool children’s most important relationships. Warm and consistent relationships with nurturing adults will help them to grow and thrive.


Developmental experiences for preschoolers (3–5 years old)

As a parent of a preschooler, it can be difficult to understand how your child is experiencing the world and why they’re behaving the way they are. This table shows the main developmental experiences and capabilities of children aged around 3–5 years old, along with ways parents, family members and other adults can support their healthy development.

Before you read this list, take a moment to think about what you’ve been noticing about your child.

Have you noticed any changes in:

  • what your child can do, or is trying to do, by themself?
  • their physical abilities?
  • how they like to play?
  • the ways they’re expressing their feelings?

As you read the suggestions for ways to support healthy development, consider:

  • What are you already doing that is supporting your preschooler’s development?
  • Are there any ideas here that you might try?


If your family is navigating tough times

When a family is facing difficulties – such as financial or housing stress, health issues or relationship breakdown – it affects everyone, even very young children. It’s normal for a child’s developmental process to be interrupted and different to what’s described above if they, you or the whole family is dealing with tough times.

Find out more about how you can support your child’s development during tough times in our fact sheet.


When to seek advice

As a parent, you know your child best. If you have any concerns about the way your child moves, speaks, learns or interacts with other people, talk to your doctor/GP.

Please make an appointment to see your GP, child health nurse or another health professional if your child:

  • shows no interest in pretend play or playing with other children
  • can’t have a conversation with familiar adults, or answer simple questions like, ‘What did you do at the park?’ or ‘What did you watch on TV?’
  • is not able to be understood by others when they talk
  • isn’t trying to feed and dress themselves (at around four years), or is not able to go to the toilet and dress without help (usually by age five)
  • is not able to walk, run, climb, jump and confidently go up and down stairs; or
  • isn’t able to draw lines and circles (by age four), or simple pictures like stick people (by five years).2,3,4

Identifying a cause or a developmental delay and getting help early can make a big difference to your child’s development and long-term wellbeing.


More information

This fact sheet is part of our series on key developmental experiences for children from birth to age 12. This collection of resources looks at what parents and other adults can do to support healthy development at different points in a child’s developmental journey.

Other resources in the series:

The Raising Children Network has more detailed information about:

Find out more about anxiety in preschoolers in our Emerging Minds Families resource.

Listen to this Emerging Minds podcast episode to learn more about supporting your child’s emotions.

By learning and staying curious about what your child is experiencing, thinking and feeling, you can support their healthy development and their mental health and wellbeing, now and into the future.




  1. Department of Health and Aged Care. (2021). Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians: For children and young people (5 to 17 years) [Web page]. Australian Government.
  2. Queensland Health Child Development Program and Brisbane North Primary Health Network. (2016). Red Flags Early Identification Guide (for children aged birth to five years). Queensland Government.
  3. Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority. (n.d.). Your child’s development [Web page]. ACECQA.
  4. Healthdirect. (2021). Developmental milestones in babies and children [Web page]. Australian Government.

Discover more resources

Login to Emerging Minds Learning

Keep a list of your favourite resources for reference or try some of our courses.

Subscribe to our newsletters