The average two-year-old stands between 32 and 35 inches tall and weighs anywhere from 23 to 30 pounds. He still sleeps more than twelve hours and he requires a nap of one or two hours during the afternoon. When he is awake, however, the two-year-old is going all the time. He has much more motor control than he had a scant six months before and anything that can be climbed upon or jumped from looks like an inviting and exciting challenge. Language growth is also enormous during this year and vies with motoric exuberance as the major theme of this age period.
In the motor domain, the two-year-old is expansive and expressive. Now that he can walk and climb without assistance, he takes great pleasure in his mastery and he uses his control to express his emotions. Small muscle control is also more in evidence than it was at eighteen months. The two-year-old can do small motor feats such as stack a number of blocks or stringing wooden beads. Effective art work such as drawing and painting do not, however, become really possible for another year.
Motor, intellectual, and language activity are all major tasks for the two-year-old . In a very real sense, the time-space world of the two-year-old has begun to expand beyond the immediate here and now to events that are occurring at a somewhat great temporal and spatial distance.
Goal-seeking behavior at age two reflects this new expansion of the space-time dimension. At two, the child even shows a kind of deductive reasoning. If the adult hides a toy in a box in a cupboard, the two-year-old can find it. He will move a stool or chair to reach the cupboard. Once there, he will search the various containers until he finds it. He is able to reason that if it is not in one container, it will be in the next. This reasoning is elementary but, nonetheless, the child has shown his ability to reason.
Memory is another facet of intellectual ability which shows rather remarkable gains during this period. Not only is the child learning the names for many objects, he retains them and uses them correctly. This kind of ability is also shown in the two-year-old’s capacity for deferred imitation — his ability to see an event at one point in time (ex. a child pushing a baby carriage) and to imitate that behavior at a later point in time.
It is language, however, that is the leading edge of the expansion of the two-year-old’s intellectual world. By the age of two, most children know about 300 words and may know as many as 1,000. The child is learning words and grammatical forms at an enormous rate and has already acquired the basic pronouns for talking about himself such as I, me, mine, etc.
At this age, language is very much tied up with action so that the child’s actions are often the only clue to the meaning of his language. At this age, too, children very much enjoy the rhythm pattern and musical qualities of language as much as often to the adult’s dismay, is that they enjoy the musical sound of the story being read as much or more than its content. Within the social sphere, the two-year-old will demand to do things for himself, like putting his arm in his jacket or using a spoon. With other children, the two-year-old is still quite self-centered, but he will sit with other children and play beside them for awhile, as if enjoying the companionship.
The two-year-old shows his budding socialization skills in other ways. When he does something wrong, he tends to look sheepish as if he were beginning to experience guilt about his misbehavior. His many negativisms reflect the fact that he is learning to distinguish more clearly between himself and others. Such negativisms have to be understood as part of a normal process of distinguishing between oneself and others. By saying “No”, the child asserts himself and establishes his sense of individuality. What appears as willfulness in the two-year-old is, in fact, the growing self in the process of realization.
Generally, the three-year-old is still becoming acquainted with hissurroundings, new materials, and the various possibilities that exist. He usually enjoys his peers, is emerging into cooperative play, but is still relying on adults for affirmation. It is important to him that adults notice his accomplishments.
Many three-year-olds have become great conversationalists and will want opportunities to share conversation within a group. Questions of Why?, What?, and How? may begin to abound. Explanations help the three-year-old make sense of his world.
Pretend play becomes a strong interest, and opportunities to be silly and imaginative are crucial.
The three-year-old has generally learned how to make simple choices.
This ability should be reinforced by allowing him to choose, for example, between milk or juice, red or blue paint, etc.
Predictability in routine is extremely important to three-year-olds. Sudden changes or departure from the normal routine may be upsetting, so consistency and established transition periods are valuable.
The three-year-old is generally interested in activities requiring more precise manipulation — building with blocks, stringing large beads, easel painting, and creating with clay. There may be a temporary lack of fine motor coordination in the three-and-a-half to four-year-old which could result in frustration where precise manipulation is concerned.
Sharing and taking turns is likely to be unfamiliar to the young three-year-old, but may be learned during the course of that year. Group activities which require waiting for your turn or sharing a special toy will likely result in frustration or disaster!
Typically, the three-year-old needs learning experiences that are concrete in nature and that include hands-on, sensory involvement, and the inclusion of visual aids or stories, lessons, etc. The three-year-old is likely to have difficulty in understanding abstract concepts such as changing seasons, the meaning of holidays, or size differences. In addition, it is beneficial to offer learning experiences which introduce the more sophisticated skills of developing self-control, and of cooperative and sedentary play.
The four-year-old is continuing to develop cognitively, exploring with materials, ideas, and personal relationships.
He generally understands the need to share and take turns, and tends to respond to verbal limitations. The four-year-old typically prefers the companionship of peers to that of adults, now choosing to play mostly with friends of his or her same gender.
Imaginary and dramatic play are very likely to increase in the four-year-old. In fact, some four-year-olds may even create an imaginary friend. Sufficient opportunity for dramatic play, dressing up, and role playing is necessary.
Some four-year-olds may appear “motor driven”, generally preferring large amounts of gross motor movement.
At this age, concepts involving abstractions become more easily comprehended. The four-year-old is beginning to grasp the concept of seasons and the passage of time. He is also working to master the use of space words ( i.e., in, on, up, under, etc.), and may begin to order or sequence objects and events.
Drs. Gessel and llg (1974) suggest that age five marks “both the end and the beginning of a growth epoch… Although by no means a finished product, the five-year-old gives token of the adult he or she will be.” The child, at five, generally has a better understanding of the world, and his or her own place in it. The five-year-old generally has gained much independence in daily routine, pushing for more and more autonomy.
The ability to make choices, to have some control over decisions that affect him, is vital.
Many five-year-olds enjoy practicing their intellectual abilities — printing their names, writing numbers, spelling familiar words. Abilities have become increasingly more abstract, and most five-year-olds are capable of a higher level of reasoning and learning. An increased interest in science and nature activities, as well as an interest in speculating about the future (what I want to be when I grow up…) are likely.