Physical milestones for 3 and 4-year-olds

Find out more about the physical and motor skills 3 to 5 year old tamariki typically develop.

What is typical physical development for tamariki aged between 3 and 4 years old?

  • Their ball skills are progressing — they can catch a ball with their arms out in front and throw and kick a ball with more control and accuracy.
  • Walking confidently is now the norm for them. They can walk backwards, on tiptoe and up and down stairs.
  • Their balance is far more controlled as seen in their ability to dance, hop, run and jump with both feet off the ground. Many can ride and steer a tricycle or a scooter, or balance on a bike.
  • Their upper body strength is increasing, so climbing up ladders or objects is easier for them. They enjoy the jumping off or sliding down part too!

What are typical fine motor skills for tamariki aged between 3 and 4 years old?

By now they’ll likely be cutting with scissors, stacking and building, using a pencil or crayons and copying vertical lines and circles.

It’s time to ask for help and talk with their child’s doctor or health nurse if whānau have any concerns about their child’s developing motor skills or are worried that their child:

  • is overly clumsy
  • trips or falls a lot
  • can’t manage basic ball skills
  • can’t handle small objects, pencils or crayons.

What are typical fine motor skills between 4 and 5 years old?

  • We will likely see our tamaiti able to gallop, hop and skip, and balance on one foot for several seconds.
  • Their increased ball skills will see them throwing, catching, kicking and bouncing balls with more accuracy and confidence.
  • They’ll enjoy learning new skills such as swinging by themselves, swimming and riding a tricycle. Some may be able to ride a small two-wheeled bike.
  • They’ll be managing stairs both up and down without help, running forward and backwards with ease and be able to perform some simple gymnastic skills like forward rolls.
  • Their fine motors skills will have developed to the stage where they’re able to stack about 10 blocks, do up small buttons and cut with scissors following lines.
  • They’ll use their fine motor skills to produce pictures and symbols. They may be able to copy a triangle, circle, square and other shapes, and draw a person with body parts.
  • They’ll likely be able to dress and undress themselves and use a fork and spoon. With minimal help they’ll be able to brush their own teeth, wash themselves in the bath and take care of their own toileting needs.

It’s time to seek some help if whānau notice their tamaiti is struggling to:

  • hold a pencil or crayon sufficiently to be able to draw
  • stack a tower at least eight blocks high
  • feed themselves, sleep or use the toilet
  • brush their teeth, wash and dry their own hands or undress themselves.