The pre-school years

The period between 2–5 years is a period of discovery and emerging independence for children when they will begin to explore new forms of play and new environments. As with babies, children do not all develop at exactly the same rate, but there are some benchmarks that provide a general guideline of when children will acquire new capacities, behaviours and skills. It is probably less helpful to describe these processes as milestones as they happen more gradually than in the first two years of life.

Physical development

  • Children during this period are gaining significant strength and coordination.
  • They are more able to control their use of their of hands and fingers. For example, they can dress themselves, tie a bow and do up a button.
  • They acquire skills such as jumping, hopping and skipping.
  • If children have the opportunity, they can start to cut with scissors, paint and draw.

Cognitive development

  • 2–5-year-olds are very curious.
  • They are beginning to explore the cause and effect between actions and events.
  • They have the ability to start to recognise letters and numbers, colours, shapes and textures.
  • Their memory skills increase.
  • They become more aware of things that are alike and different.

Emotional and social development

  • Children start to demonstrate affection and intense feelings of fear, joy, anger and love.
  • They are also able to develop a sense of humour.
  • Many children enjoy showing off and demand attention.
  • Children are beginning to be more aware of themselves and others.
  • They are more independent, and more able to share and take turns, develop friendships and show respect for others’ things.


  • Between 2–5 years, children’s language develops, vocabulary will expand rapidly and they will begin to engage in more complex conversations.
  • Children begin to engage in a wider social circle.
  • They begin to ask questions during this period – why, what, who?
  • They will start to learn the correct grammar for their language.
  • They develop improved listening skills.

2.5 The different stages of development

Middle childhood 6–10 years