Developmental Milestones For Ages 3-5 Years of Age

By AASLDecember 3, 2020

Childhood development is complex. Between fine motor and gross motor development, and the variability between children, it’s not always easy to tell if your child’s development is considered “typical.” If you’re worried that your child’s writing and pre-writing development may be atypical, here is a tool for you to use. These are the developmental milestones in writing that average children meet by certain ages. Also, there are lists of indications that your child’s fine motor/handwriting development may be atypical.

Between the ages of 3-4 years an average child will:

  • Pre-Writing Strokes – Between 3-4 years of age, children should be able to copy vertical and horizontal lines, and circles, without a demonstration from their parents. By 3.5 years, they should also be able to imitate you when you draw a plus sign.
  • Copy letters – Just before age 4, a typical child may begin to copy simple familiar letters and so on.
  • Tracing lines – Trace on top of a thick horizontal line without going off of the line much.
  • Coloring Shapes – By this age, children should be able to color grossly within the lines of simple shapes and forms.
  • Using Scissors – By this age a child should be able to easily cut an 8 X 11 piece of paper in half, and cut along a straight line without going off the line too much.
  • Grasp – Between 3.5-4 years, a child should be using his/her thumb and pad of the index finger, while resting the marker/crayon on the knuckle of the middle finger to color and draw.

If your child isn’t meeting the following milestones by age 4, you may want to see an occupational therapist.

  • Drawing straight lines and circles
  • Cannot hold a crayon or other writing utensil with fingers and thumb and is still using fist
  • Scribbles when coloring, instead of using a variety of strokes, and is unable to stay somewhat in the lines when coloring
  • Is struggling to use scissors properly

Between the ages of 4-5 years, children developing at a typical pace will…

  • Draw people – Be able to draw a simple picture of a person with at least 3 body parts.
  • Draw from model – Draw very simple pictures of something she sees on another picture or something she sees at home our outside (a toy boat, a flower, a cup, etc.).
  • Copying intersecting lines and simple shapes – Between 4-5 years old, typical milestones for prewriting are the ability to copy a square, an “x,” and a plus sign, without a demonstration from an adult.
  • Mazes – Draw inside the path of a very simple maze that has straight lines only.
  • Connect the dots – Connect dots spaced about ½ inch apart to make very simple drawings in a connect-the-dots book or dotted drawing sheet made by an adult.
  • Color in the lines – Color mostly within the lines in a coloring book.
  • Crayon grip – By 4.5-5 years old, a child should have a fully developed dynamic tripod grasp, which is the way in which you hold your pen or pencil when writing. The thumb and index finger grip the base of the crayon/pencil, while the crayon/pencil sits on knuckle of the middle finger, and the little and ring finger are tucked neatly into the palm. This is where precision movement for coloring and drawing comes from, as children develop the small muscles necessary in this grip position to originate movement from their fingers, versus using their arms to move the pencil.
  • Hand tracing – Use a crayon or marker to trace around his own hand.
  • Copying name – At this age children should be able to copy their own names, and may be able to form their names without an example.
  • Scissors – At this age children should be able to cut out simple shapes, like circles and squares.
  • Hand Preference – At this age children should be displaying a preference for one hand over the other, and should be able to use both hands together well (one hand holds the paper while the other cuts or colors).

If your child isn’t meeting the following milestones by age 5, you may want to see an occupational therapist.

  • Copying a square, cross, plus sign, and own name
  • Holding a crayon a “big kid” grip, (with the thumb, index, and middle fingers pinched the tip of the pencils)
  • Making recognizable drawings
  • Coloring mostly inside the lines
  • Drawing by moving the fingers and wrist, instead of the whole arm
  • Using scissors well
  • Showing emergence of hand dominance

Case-Smith, J., & OBrien, J. C. (2014). Occupational Therapy For Children. St. Louis: Mosby.

DISCLAIMER: Information published about one particular disorder does not necessarily apply to every individual who has the disorder discussed in this article. Treatments, therapies and suggestions are highly individual and must be customized to the needs of each person to be effective. Do not make changes to your/your child’s treatment plan as a result of what you read in this article (or any content published by AASL) without consulting your/your child’s physicians and therapists. This content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of All About Speech and Language or its therapists. To understand the opinions and recommendations of your/your child’s AASL therapist, schedule an appointment with your therapist to discuss your concerns.

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