Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

December 22, 2020

Development & Play: Ages 2-5

By Sam Develli, OTR/L

2 years

By two years, a child has developed good gross motor control and are starting to focus on more daily activities and exploring more difficult movements. A 2-year-old can hop on one foot for a few seconds and is walking up the stairs by alternating their feet. They increase their independence in dressing, toileting, and brushing teeth during this time. This includes the ability to put on a front button coat/shirt, unbuttoning large buttons, and imitating brushing their teeth. At this age they are able to tell a caregiver when they need to go to the bathroom leading to regular toileting and decreased accidents. All of these gains in independence helps to develop the next stage of psychosocial development- autonomy versus shame and doubt. This is successfully gained by independent simple daily activities such as toilet training (by 4 years), and the ability to safely move around their environment. A caregiver can support this development by supporting the child’s performance while allowing some choice. At this age, the child also develops self-control with behaviors enacted in accordance to social expectations and monitored internally. The child gains a sense of identity during this stage.

In regard to writing, this toddler starts to be able to imitate (“watch me, now you do it”) horizontal, vertical, and circular marks. Their scribbling typically is without symbolic meaning and is very repetitious, but shapes start to emerge from scribbling by the end of this stage.

Play Style: Symbolic, Constructive, Gross Motor, and Social

  • links sequences of pretend play
  • uses toys to represent animals/people
  • plays out drama with stuffed animals
  • plays house
  • imitates adults using toys
  • likes jumping & rough-and-tumble play, messes
  • cooperative play- interest in peers

Appropriate Toys:

  • water/sand tables
  • surfaces with various textures
  • scissors
  • crayons
  • blocks
  • puzzles
  • toys with moving parts
  • tricycle
  • hopping on 1 foot
  • costumes
  • matching
  • shape sorter/colors

3 years

This age is characterized by increased ability to jump and hop, and significant independence in dressing, toileting, and chores. By this age, a child has typically gained independence in toileting but may need help with wiping and fasteners, so keep working on that fine motor and hand control! This can easily be addressed through promotion of independent dressing- at this age the child can put on a pullover shirt with minimal assistance, put on shoes and socks, independently pulls down pants, and starts to orient clothes. In relation to fasteners, the child can zip and unzip a zipper on the track, progressing to ability to unzip and separate the zipper from the track. They can also button large front buttons (series of 3-4), snap or hook a front fastener, and unbuckle shoes/belt. A 3-year-old can really start helping with chores around the house, including wiping up spills, putting away toys with reminders, and dusting, drying dishes, or gardening with help.

With the increased exposure to fine motor tasks and writing, a child demonstrates a more mature grasp on the writing utensil with a static tripod grasp (3-fingers). However, they are still relying on their shoulder, elbow, and wrist to move the writing utensil- rather than the small intrinsic muscles of their hand- so keep working on hand strength!

By this age, the child develops self-regulation resulting in behavioral flexibility, self-evaluation of behavior, and self-awareness. This is also the end of the psychosocial developmental stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt (see age 2).

Play Style: Complex Imaginary, Constructive, Rough-and-Tumble, Social

  • pretend objects have actions- create scripts
  • art projects
  • physical play- swinging, sliding, jumping, running
  • associative play- play with other children with sharing & talking about play goal

Appropriate Toys:

  • smaller crayons/markers
  • coloring books
  • scissors
  • blocks
  • skip, hop, balance
  • tricycle
  • dolls/action figures
  • categorizing/sorting objects
  • turn taking toys

4 years

4-year-olds continue to gain independence in dressing and can assist with even more chores! They also develop far more imaginative and dramatic play, resulting in more interactive and creative play methods. This is also the start of the psychosocial developmental stage of initiative versus guilt, meaning they begin to take initiative and plan activities, direct their own play, and attempt to assert control over others. The accomplishment of tasks can lead to the successful development of this stage, but the inability to accomplish tasks may lead the child to become overly dependent on caregivers. This is why it is extremely important to ensure activities provide a ‘just-right’ challenge, which means it provides a challenge that can be achieved.

At this age, children can remove their pullover shirts independently, identify the front and back of clothes, and put on shoes correctly. They can lace shoes, buckle shoes/belt, and fully zip a jacket zipper. They may need assistance to tie their shoes, but the steps to tie laces can start to be introduced. This age also leads to the ability to help sort laundry and ability to fix dry cereal or snacks.

When drawing, these children draw images with preemptive intent for the representation of an object, event, or person. These drawing have distinct shapes and elements but may be disordered and demonstrate incorrect sizing.

Play Styles: Games with Rules, Constructive, Social-Dramatic Play

  • group games with simple rules
  • gross motor games (i.e. “duck, duck, goose”)
  • role play with other children
  • dress up
  • tells stories

Appropriate Toys:

  • inset puzzles/interlocking up to 10 pieces
  • scissors/crayons/markers
  • small beads
  • balls
  • hopscotch
  • playground equipment
  • jumping
  • games with rules
  • singing
  • role playing

5 years

This age is characterized by significant changes and increases in abilities! Children gain better control of alternating gross movements, leading to the ability to skip while maintaining their balance. They can also hop in a straight line. They can also dress unsupervised, tie/untie knots, follow safety rules, routinely wash hands, and takes bath/washes hair with reminders. For chores, a 5-year-old can put toys away neatly, make a sandwich, take out the trash, make the bed, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and answer the phone correctly.

With the start of kindergarten, and significant increased demands of writing, the 5-year-old demonstrates a dynamic tripod grasp with movement isolated from the fingers rather than the shoulder/wrist. They can copy a cross, X, some letters and numbers, and may be able to write their name.

Play Style: Games with Rules, Dramatic, Sports, Social

  • elaborate imaginary play
  • reconstruct real world in play
  • ball sports
  • group activities
  • goal of play is winning

Appropriate Toys:

  • scissors, crayons, markers
  • interlocking puzzles up to 20 pieces
  • tiny objects to manipulate
  • hop scotch
  • balls- kick & catch
  • balance
  • complex sorting
  • legos- complex block structures
  • board games
  • computer games
  • competitive & cooperative games

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