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4-Year-Old Cognitive Milestones

Tania K. Cowling
July 21, 2017

Your little one is getting smarter by the day. Here are the cognitive milestones that your 4-year-old will achieve.



You've always known that you had a smarty-pants on your hands -- now your 4-year-old is showing the rest of the world just how quickly he can learn. He's starting to get the hang of numbers, patterns and time and even figuring out the colors he's using for his art projects. The year leading up to kindergarten is full of important cognitive milestones that are preparing him for school. How much has your little one already learned?

Your preschooler is expanding his critical thinking skills, such as identifying, classifying, comparing, contrasting, sequencing, predicting and problem solving. Keep in mind, though, that every kid is different, and he won't necessarily achieve all of his milestones at the same time. In fact, his individual milestones can fluctuate.

"Preschoolers' development can be variable as they appear to regress at times or shoot ahead," says Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., an early childhood specialist, professor, columnist and author of numerous books. You might also find your child is more advanced in one type of milestone than others, says Wanda Draper, Ph.D., child development specialist, teacher and author of "Your Child Is Smarter Than You Think." She adds, "The more important factor is that the child makes progress in the areas of development each year, and this progress should be observable." So if your tot excels more in some areas than in others -- that's totally normal.

And read  our guide to developmental milestones for kids .

Preschool Cognitive Skills

Your 4-year-old should begin to recognize and name a few colors, starting with primary colors of red, yellow and blue before slowly learning how colors mix to create secondary colors of orange, green and purple. As your child uses crayons, call out the colors he uses in drawing. Repetition of these color names and observances helps a young preschooler learn the correct names.

Along with colors, your child will begin to identify numbers of objects and count from one to 10. And when he's putting toys in a certain order? He's practicing those early premath skills of comparing and sequencing. He will also be sorting objects according to various characteristics, such as color, shape and size. Challenge your child to repeat a simple pattern using colorful blocks and beads.

Four-year-olds are also beginning to understand the concepts of "same" and "different." Everywhere you go, search for opportunities to point out things that are alike and things that are different. Ask your child to look for all the red cars or blue trucks on the ride to the grocery store. How are they alike and different?

Just a year ago, a concrete idea of time wasn't part of your toddler's day. As a 4-year-ol, time is starting to make sense (sort of!). They know the difference between morning and afternoon and can track the changing seasons throughout the year. Story time is also taking on a new role, as children now pay attention to story sequence. They are beginning to understand that each one has a beginning, a middle and an end. Guided questions can help children make sense of the stories they hear.

Help Your Child Master Cognitive Skills

At home, you can help your child master these new milestone skills by playing fun games and reading lots of stories. "Play is the pathway to learning. This gives the child an opportunity to physically and mentally acquire these skills. For example, when 4-year-olds play with materials and objects that match up by color or shape, they are learning classification. When they put the objects in order according to size while playing, they are learning seriation concepts," explains Draper. Take time each day to play games. Having fun through play is synonymous with learning, and the bonding rewards between the parent and the child are priceless!

Be confident that your child is right where he needs to be, says Miller, and encourage him as he tackles his 4-year-old cognitive milestones.

And check out our  Overview of Milestones for 4 Year Olds .

Tania K. Cowling is an author and freelance writer with a background in early childhood education and parenting. 

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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