Basic Life Skills for 3 & 4 Year Olds to Know

ParentingPreschoolers41 Comments

When Henry started preschool, I started thinking about life skills for kids to know and wondering if Henry can do what he should be doing at this time.

As a parent, I often wonder if Henry’s on the right track. If he’s doing everything he should be doing. Or if he’s lacking in an area. When he was younger, I’d track all the developmental charts to make sure he’s on track. But somewhere along the way… I’ve gotten to not looking at those charts anymore.

What should he be doing?

Basic Life Skills for Kids to Know

I asked Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed, early childhood educator and author of the blog Teach Preschool, about what life skills young kids should be doing. To start, I asked what she hopes to see three year olds doing when they enter into preschool.

Deborah suggests that parents encourage independence in their child by:

  • Helping their child learn how to put on or take off their own coat or jacket.
  • Helping their child learn to stuff their mittens in a pocket or hat when they take it off rather than just dropping them on the floor.
  • Helping their child know how to pull up or down their own pants. (I always help but we want preschoolers to be self-sufficient as soon as possible.)

Basically, Deborah says that, “Any task a child can learn to do on his or her own that relates to taking care of his or her own body or getting dressed or putting things away in the backpack will help the child be more independent and confident in preschool.”

By then end of the school year, Deborah says four year olds should be able to do the following basic life skills:

  • Put on their own jacket, mittens, hats
  • Put papers away in their backpacks
  • Fold up their own clothes or blankets and put them away
  • Help clean up toys and materials at clean up time
  • Set their own table space for snack and throw away their own trash after snack

Ultimately, by the time they enter our four year old program, I want the threes to be past the stage of total dependence and able to do most personal care process and organizational processes on their own. When we get into the four’s/Pre-K program, we want to focus on more advanced skills and not still be spending lots of time trying to find mittens or zipping up backpacks!

I’ve learned to start allowing time for Henry to do things on his own. Allowing another 5-10 minutes to get out the door each morning, so Henry can put on his own shoes.

At night before bedtime, I’ve started letting Henry dress himself in his pajamas (or ‘pee-gay-gays’ as Henry calls them) because these are loose fitting clothes that are easy practice for him. He recently started doing this entirely on his own and is very proud of himself. He’s now starting to tackle getting dressed in the morning.

Basic Life Skills for Kids to Know

Knowing what to expect is one thing, but relaying those expectations to your child provides another challenge. Deborah told me how she teaches the kids in her preschool (can be applied at home too!) about her expectations:

Make your expectations clear.

I think the first place you start is making sure your expectations, both at home and in the classroom, are clear. This requires breaking things down for the children step by step and teaching them what it is you are expecting them to understand. My belief is if you haven’t taught the child the process then a rule can’t be understood or followed.

For very young children (twos and threes), I start with teaching expectations first and foremost. We practice the skills that I need them to understand.  For example, we practice how to wash our hands so that they get all the germs to go away but then we go on to teach how to use one pump of the soap bottle, how to use one paper towel for drying, how to throw the paper towel in the trash, and how to turn the water on and off.  This is a process that needs taught.

Henry has always been quite a loud child. When he’s playing with friends, he always has the loudest motor, and at the library or in stores, I am constantly telling him to use his inside voice. Teaching him to use this ‘inside voice’ has been difficult for me and hard for him to understand. I am mostly okay with Henry being loud, I love his enthusiasm and excitement, but there are times when we’re expected to be quiet.

At this age, this seems to still be a common occurance and Deborah explains why:

Young children are still ‘all about me’ when it comes to their development, so they are not aware of how they are affecting others around them. This is a skill that needs to be taught rather than told.

Model life skills to the kids.

A common suggestion, and one that Deborah suggested as well, is to model to your child what you expect of them. Modeling the behavior that you expect just before you expect it makes it stick in their mind. Deborah says, “The child will probably think this is funny but it will help him remember what you expect and practice the skill of using a quiet voice.”

Along with Life Skills, learn how to teach responsibility to kids too!

I am particularly excited about learning this next approach from Deborah. This approach not only teaches what you expect from the child, but it puts in a learning twist as well.

If your child is using a loud voice to talk to you at home or in the store, stop and softly say something like,

“Are you talking to me?”

“I thought you must be talking to that lady way over there because she can hear you better than me.”

In other words, teach your child to judge the need for using a loud voice to talk to someone far away versus a casual or normal voice when standing right next to you. But above all – be aware that you model appropriate talking tones and levels. If you are shouting,

“Don’t talk so loud!”

Then you are not teaching.

Another approach Deborah takes is to show how the childrens’ actions are affecting others. Deborah says to try things like, “Your loud voice is hurting my ears!” or “I can’t understand what you say when you talk so loud so let’s try it again and use a normal voice.”

This all revolves around teaching expectations and helping young children to be successful in life.

And one thing Deborah would tell parents of all preschool childrenis:

“… to look at EVERYTHING as an opportunity to teach and to learn.

Preschool age children are discovering their world as well as the boundaries in their world. They need both the space to try and fail and the support to try and succeed.

Look at every new task or interest a child explores or tries as small opportunities to teach them and then where possible, give them the tools they need to be independently successful in the process.

Understand that independence doesn’t mean letting a child run around wildly wrecking up the living room. What it means is giving children the time, space, and opportunity to explore the environment or a new idea and then guiding that child towards the understanding, skills, and discipline he needs to be successful in both the home and classroom environment.”

life skills for 3 and 4 year olds to know

My latest motto is to treat my parenting approach as a teacher would their teaching approach. I find that all teachers are so calm and collected (yes, because its expected of them) but the children respond to this so well. Can I manage this as a parent?

What basic life skills would you add?

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  1. says

    This is such a good read. I’m a Montessori teacher and soon-to-be-mom and I was thinking along the same lines–my parenting approach pretty much the same as my teaching approach. But I keep thinking that I get the children in my classes for at least 3 hours a day–I wonder how I’d fare if I have to do this 24/7 with my baby. Here’s to hoping we can manage. :)

    Mars M.

    • Tazz says

      don’t worry! If you’re a conscious parent, you’ll be fine. I teach elementary and now have a baby of my own. I find that I treat him the way I do my students. You really can;t change who you are, and if you’re a fantastic teacher, then you’ll be a fantastic mother too. esp when teaching is something you cannot fake. It has to come from the heart :)

  2. Tazz says

    As an elementary school teacher, I was shocked but not surprised to see some of my kids didnt know how to do basic things, like putting their stuff away or cleaning after themselves. This is due to parents coddling and not allowing them to do it for themselves (‘he’s too little/she’s too small for that/oh that seem’s hard’ etc). I believe in letting the children try, even if it seems difficult. Basic stuff like arranging their stuff, putting them away, being respectful to others is something they can all learn and start doing. The look in their faces when they realise they can do something is always something I love to see!

  3. Kristine Duehl says

    My 3.5 yr old CAN do all of these things. Getting him to DO them is another story. He has slowly been refusing to do more and more stuff. Pull up his pants after he uses the bathroom? He could do it 2 months ago and now refuses to do it. He will just walk around without his pants on. I’ve tried every way I know to encourage him to do it, but he just says “my hands don’t work, mommy, you need to help me.” I realize all this is his way of getting more attention now that his little brother is 9 months and requires more supervision, but I can’t seem to figure out how to demotivate him while still being understanding and supportive of his need for attention.

  4. Celeste says

    Great article thanks! Just wanted to let you know that my son was always a LOUD talker as well. We had his ears checked and it turned out he had a ton of fluid in his ears causing a 60% hearing loss. We got tubes placed in and we have seen an AMAZING difference. Just thought that may be helpful.

  5. Annono says

    I believe if you work with your kids they learn early on. My child and the nieces of mine were all potty trained way before two years of age. The three year old is writing and doing math as the two year old knows her numbers and letters. The iPad is a great learning tool. Kids love to learn.

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