Sort by
Sort by

Does your three- to five-year-old know their ABC’s?

Helpful tips to help you monitor mental and physical progress for three- to five-year-old children

Back to Press releases

By: Anne Marie De Beer, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager, Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), writing for The Growing Parent, a supportive platform for parents and caregivers with children between the ages of 3 - 5 years.

The first few years of life are particularly important because vital development occurs in all domains of the body and brain. According to The Lancet Global Health Journal, the brain develops rapidly through a myriad of biological processes and these events happen at different times, building on each other. A small delay or disturbance in these processes can have long-term effects on the brain's structural and functional capabilities.

As parents and caregivers, it is crucial to understand the cognitive and physical development of children aged 3 to 5 years old. These early years are a critical period in a child's life, where they undergo significant milestones that lay the foundation for their overall growth and development. Proactively monitoring your child’s development is essential as it helps track the age-appropriate milestones and ensures that the necessary help can be brought in early, should it be required. In this article, we will explore the cognitive and physical development of pre-schoolers, why it is important to monitor developmental milestones, and why parents and caregivers should provide a nutrient-dense diet to support optimal development.

Cognitive Development Tracking

Cognitive or mental development refers to the growth and progress of a human child’s brain and mental abilities up until the age of 18.

During the formative years, which take place between the ages of 3 to 5, we experience significant cognitive milestones. The 2022 Thrive by Five report asserts basic language and mathematic skills, memory, attention span, motor co-ordination and visual motor integration as key indicators of your child’s ongoing development. However, these capabilities are strengthened by nutrition, meaning inadequate (too little or too much) or infrequent nourishment may lead to compromised neurological and cognitive development and in extreme cases, physical stunting.

Three- to five-year-olds who are on track with their development, typically develop their vocabulary, basic problem-solving skills (such as sorting objects by shape, size and colour) and start to understand cause-and-effect relationships. Furthermore, they begin to understand and use more complex sentences, express their thoughts and ideas, and engage in conversations. At this age, they also develop important social skills, such as taking turns, sharing, and playing. They begin to understand emotions and develop empathy, which is essential for healthy social interactions.

During children’s developmental years, they begin to develop their memory and attention span, which are fundamental for learning and academic success. They start remembering and recalling information, following simple instructions, and paying attention to tasks for longer periods.

Below are some other cognitive milestones parents and caregivers can help establish and be on the look out for:

  • Sing songs

  • Understand the difference between fantasy and reality

  • Ask questions constantly

  • Like to tell stories

  • May know four or more colours

  • Curious about real facts about the world

  • Can sleep 10 to 12 hours a night.

Physical Development Tracking

Physical development is equally important as cognitive development in three- to five-year-olds.  Children experience significant physical milestones that impact their gross motor skills, fine motor skills and overall physical health and well-being. Gross motor skills are the abilities required to control large muscles and are crucial for activities such as running, jumping, and climbing.  Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscles and are essential for tasks such as writing, drawing, and dressing.

By age three, children should have developed the ability to walk and run independently. By age five, they have typically developed more control and coordination in their movements. They begin to learn how to jump and hop, which involves coordinating their movements and landing safely on both feet.

Pre-schoolers start developing their ability to grasp and manipulate objects, such as holding a spoon, using scissors, and building with blocks. At the age of 3 to 5, many children begin to show an interest in drawing and colouring. They start developing the hand-eye coordination and dexterity needed for these activities.

These are some other physical milestones that parents can help establish:

  • Skip and hop on one foot
    Walk downstairs alone

  • Build a block tower using 10 blocks

  • Climb on playground equipment

  • Ride a tricycle

  • Dress themselves

  • Able to fasten large buttons without help

  • Pull up a zipper after it is fastened

  • Use safety scissors

  • Learn how to tie shoes

  • Start to help with chores around the house

The role of nutrition

The UNICEF’s Nutrition Brief highlights brain development, strong skeletal development, educational attainment and productivity in adulthood as some of the long-term outcomes of  appropriate and balanced nutrition. More evident expressions of good nutrition can be seen in boosted immunity, lowered risk of fatal diseases, a healthy digestive process and the body’s ability to perform its regenerative capabilities such as healing the skin after a fall or regrowing new teeth when the milk teeth fallout.

Monitoring developmental milestones is critical for several reasons:

  • Firstly, it helps parents and caregivers identify any potential delays or concerns in a child's physical development early on, which allows for early intervention and support.

  • Secondly, monitoring milestones helps track progress and ensures that children are meeting age-appropriate developmental expectations.

  • Thirdly, it helps parents and caregivers engage in activities that can foster and support their child's physical development.

For more information visit Find us on Twitter and Facebook @nestleESAR  #TheGrowingParent #NestleGoodToGo 


Nestlé East and Southern African Region (ESAR)

Rosalie Ambrose
Tel: +27 79 526 8518
Email: [email protected]é.com 

Issued by ORCHARD ON 25 on behalf of Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region
Bandile Fuyana
Tel: +27 72 240 6675
Email: [email protected]

About Nestlé
Nestlé is the world’s largest food and beverage company. It is present in 187 countries around the world, and its 291,000 employees are committed to Nestlé’s purpose of unlocking the power of food to enhance quality for everyone, today and for generations to come. Nestlé offers a wide portfolio of products and services for people and their pets throughout their lives. Its more than 2,000 brands range from global icons like Nescafé or Nespresso to local favourites like Ricoffy. Company performance is driven by its Nutrition, Health, and Wellness strategy. Nestlé is based in the Swiss town of Vevey where it was founded more than 150 years ago.