The Physical Development of 3 to 5-Year-Old Children

As a child grows, he is expected to achieve certain milestones or gain the ability to perform age-appropriate tasks, which indicate the level of his development. In assessing physical development, two major areas are considered: gross motor skills, i.e., the child’s ability to use large muscle groups to sit, stand, walk, run and maintain balance; and fine motor skills--using the hands to write, draw, eat, dress, play and coordinate other small muscle movements.

Expert Insight

According to "Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy," “Successful achievement of these tasks leads to happiness and success with later tasks, whereas failure leads to personal unhappiness, societal disapproval and difficulty with later tasks.” By achieving important milestones at the right age, a child learns to explore and become comfortable with his environment.

Age Three

At three years of age a child is expected to achieve certain gross motor skills. She should be able to walk, swinging each arm in tandem with the opposite leg, and maintain her balance. When climbing stairs, she puts one foot on each tread with no support but goes down steps using two feet on each tread with no support. Jumping from a 12-inch height with the feet together or with one foot in front begins at this stage. The child should be able to hop on one foot two or three times, kick a ball forward and pedal a tricycle.

Her fine motor skills should include feeding herself with a spoon or fork, washing and drying her hands, building a tower of nine to ten blocks and unbuttoning buttons within her reach. The three-year-old may use an immature pencil grasp and may need a little help to use the toilet

Age Four

In addition to the above, a four-year-old should be able to run with good arm-leg coordination, go up and down stairs, one foot per tread, skip with one foot only and gallop. He can now draw a person with two to four body parts and draw shapes.

Age Five

The average five-year-old is very energetic and begins to do things like roller blading, jumping rope, balancing backward on a beam and performing somersaults. She is also able to go down stairs with alternating feet, stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer and jump a 10-inch-high hurdle.

In fine motor coordination, she uses a mature pencil grasp, dresses herself independently and copies a triangle and other geometric patterns. By this time she should be able to take care of her toileting needs with little assistance and clap rhythmically.


These developmental milestones are given as a guide and are not to be construed as the norm for every child. No two children are alike 3. However, if you are concerned that your child may not be developing at a normal rate, consult your pediatrician.