Preschool Development: Understanding & Thinking Skills

Figuring Things Out, Paying Attention, Memory

Happy Kid in a Sailboat

Right from birth, children are aware of their surroundings and want to explore them. As your child plays and interacts with the people and objects around him, he learns about his body, his home and the world around him.

Below are some of the typical developmental milestones for “cognitive skills” (thinking and understanding). After each age group, you can find some “red flags” that might indicate a concern.

Between the ages of 3-4 years, your child will:

  • Be able to sort and match things (e.g. recognize and match colours)
  • Organize things by size
  • Identify parts of a whole, such as the wheel of the car 
  • Draw a very simple picture and be able to tell you what it is (you might not recognize it)
  • Use “why?” and “how?” questions
  • Tell you his full name and age
  • Play with an activity for a longer stretch of time (5-15 minutes)
  • Have a basic understanding of time, know the difference between past and present
  • Enjoy singing, dancing, or acting

Red Flags for Cognitive Development (4 years)

If you notice some of the following things by the time your child is 4 years old, you may want to talk to your doctor, or to another health professional such as a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, or a psychologist.

  • He is not able to recognize and point to at least 3 colours or shapes
  • She is not interested in pretend play
  • She constantly moves from one activity to another and is not able to stay with an activity for brief periods
  • He is not able to sort objects by their characteristics (e.g. colour, size, shape, etc)

She is not able to complete a simple 4-6 piece interlocking puzzle

Between the ages of 4-5 years, your child will:

  • Play with words, imitating and creating sounds, and make rhymes
  • Point to and name many colours and shapes
  • Learn to identify a few letters and numbers
  • Draw a person with detail
  • Draw, name, and describe pictures
  • Count objects up to 5
  • Tell you where he lives (street name and town/city)
  • Follow the rules to games, but sometimes change them as she goes
  • Recognize his name when he sees it printed

Red Flags for Cognitive Development (5 years)

If you notice some of the following things by the time your child is 5 years old, you may want to ask for help from your doctor, or from another health professional such as a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, or a psychologist.

  • She is not able to name the basic colours and shapes
  • He does not understand the concept of past, present, and future
  • She is not interested in pretend play 
  • She constantly moves from one activity to another and is not able to stay with an activity for brief periods
  • He is not able to understand the rules of a basic game, such as Memory, Lotto, or other preschool games
  • She is not able to tell you basic facts about herself (full name, age, city she lives in, street name, etc.)
  • He is not able to count 5 objects

She does not recognize her name when she sees it printed