Your growing preschooler is an individual, which means they speak in their own voice, smile in their own sweet way and have unique ways of letting you know when they are happy or sad.
Each child grows and develops at their own rate and in their own time. Yet between the ages of 3 and 5, children reach milestones that signal age-appropriate development.
“Parents typically know that there are milestones from birth, but once your child reaches 3 years old, there are others to be aware of that include sensory, gross motor, social-emotional and language development,” says Mia Hall, social worker with early childhood special education at Ferndale Schools. “It’s a good idea for parents to be aware of these so they can encourage their child to develop these skills.”
In addition to their physical skills, like crawling, walking and running, each child builds skills in several main areas of development. These include their thinking skills, their speech and language skills, their abilities to interact and show feelings for others and their abilities to help themselves when they need to.
Why developmental milestones are important
At ages 3, 4 and 5, most children achieve certain milestones. While it’s fun to watch your 3-year-old learn to take turns or your 4-year-old identify colors and numbers, how can you be sure they are doing what they should be doing at each stage? When kids don’t achieve these milestones, child development experts call this a “developmental delay.”
When children attend day care or preschool programs, educators watch for typical developmental milestones and share this information with parents. During a pandemic year, when preschools and day cares have been closed — or parents don’t feel comfortable having their child attend — it’s not as easy to catch a developmental delay.
“When parents have older children, they may notice how their younger child develops in comparison. Or, grandparents may share concerns,” says Hall. “This year, parents haven’t been having playgroups or opportunities for their kids to interact with kids their own age. So, parents may not be aware their child isn’t doing something they should be doing. Other times, parents may have an instinct that something isn’t quite right. They have an idea of the trajectory of a child’s development.”
Not all developmental delays are true problems, but early intervention is important to help keep growing kids on track. The more parents know about what’s appropriate for preschoolers, the more they help their child build the skills they need.
Help your child thrive
The Michigan Department of Education, through Build Up Michigan, an innovative project of Clinton County Regional Education Service Agency, has developed a new program to help parents and caregivers provide fun skill-building activities while at home. Kids love to learn new things and these activities can help parents determine if their kids are developing at an appropriate pace.
This program is called Thrive from Home and it’s a series of videos that parents and kids can watch together at home. After the video, you can do an activity together using household items. If you notice that your child struggles with aspects of the activity, there are resources available — including additional activities and a connection to a coordinator to answer questions and take next steps.
The free program is available on the Build Up website at buildupmi.org/thrive.
“The Thrive From Home program offers excellent tips for parents. If they don’t know how to encourage learning, they can use this site to find some great ideas and learn what they can do at home to prepare their child for kindergarten,” Hall says, adding that the checklist of milestones on the Build Up site can be helpful for parents to be aware of what’s appropriate for their preschooler.
Help your child build important skills at home
One example of something parents can learn at this site is the value of fine motor skills. When kids build the muscles and dexterity needed to hold crayons and use scissors, they’re also more able to zip their coat and tie their shoes — all skills needed for independent self-care.
When preschoolers struggle with their fine motor skills, they’re less likely to select play that involves grasping and holding objects.
The site includes activities that can build these important fine motor skills, like making homemade slime or tracing chalk letters with water and a paintbrush. These are all activities that are fun for children and help develop skills at the same time.
“When kids are at preschool playing at the water table and pouring water in and out of a cup, it looks like play, but they are learning developmental skills that you may not even know are needed,” Hall explains. “When you are cooking at home, you can let your child measure ingredients to make pancakes, which is similar to skills they would be building at school.”
Even just creating routines at home, like planning a snack, followed by time outside, then an activity at the kitchen table can be helpful for kids to prepare for the daily routines of school, Hall says.
If you have concerns about your child’s development or think your child might be experiencing delayed learning, you can contact a Build Up Coordinator right from the Build Up website. There are names, email addresses and phone numbers, so you can reach out in a way that works best for you.
Your preschooler’s development isn’t just important for today but will help prepare your child for kindergarten at a time when they may have been missing out on the daily activities of preschool.
“Parents want their kids to have the best opportunities for success and they want them to be happy and well adjusted,” Hall says. “There are so many things parents can do to replace those missed opportunities for play and support at home.”
Learn more about your preschooler’s development at buildupmi.org/thrive.