4–5 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

4–5 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

Your child’s intellectual development at 4–5 years old. Follow your child’s milestones step-by-step.

Cognitive development refers to the acquisition of skills such as memory, attention, reasoning, and planning. These skills allow children to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, in addition to helping them store information, solve problems, exercise judgment, and understand the world around them. Cognitive development also includes language development, which is a child’s ability to communicate, understand speech, and express themself verbally.

Cognitive and language development: 4–5years old

Cognitive skills

At this age:

  • Your child knows how to sort and classify objects according to more complex characteristics. For example, they might collect rocks or other natural objects and decide to sort them by colour, size, and shape.
  • They’re able to focus for several minutes or more on activities they’re particularly interested in.
  • With help from you or another adult, your child is gradually learning to develop strategies for thinking before they act. For example, they might ask you to help them think of a way to resolve a minor argument.
  • They can place objects in a logical sequence (e.g., thread coloured beads in a repeating pattern to make a necklace) and are starting to master basic math concepts.
Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • They like to play matching games.
  • They can recognize and identify when an object is bigger, biggest, smaller, and smallest.
  • They can arrange the parts of a story in the right order by following the chronology of events.
  • They understand the order of numbers.
  • They become aware of their learning with help from an adult and feel a sense of pride that motivates them to persevere in their cognitive development. For example, they’ll try to come up with different ways to answer questions or new solutions to problems.

Over the next few months, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Understand the concepts of texture, weight, position, and space.
  • Count small sets of objects (e.g., 0 to 10).
  • Understand different forms of measurement (weight, height, length).
  • Plan and build structures using simple tools. For example, they might plan to build a tower with a certain number of floors out of wood blocks.
  • Demonstrate flexibility. For example, they’ll be able to change strategies independently when they hit a roadblock, such as by modifying their tower design if a block keeps falling off.

Language skills

At this age:

  • Your child understands logical explanations and stories with several twists and turns.
  • They can anticipate situations and often think about themself in the future or in their imagination, and this is reflected in what they say.
  • They use specific vocabulary. For example, they might talk about felines using specific terms like cat, lion, and tiger.
  • They have no trouble forming sentences containing more than one conjugated verb, often using multiple tenses (e.g., “I saw Papi when I was at the store.”).
  • They pronounce all sounds correctly, except perhaps th (as in something, commonly pronounced as an f) and the r and l sounds (commonly pronounced as w or y). They may still have trouble pronouncing certain consonant clusters, such as the sp in spaghetti.
  • They have a better understanding of the words today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
  • They’re learning skills that are preparing them to read and write. For example, they may recognize that certain words rhyme and that letters represent sounds.

Over the next few months, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Tell a coherent story, whether real or imaginary, composed of several sentences and a logical ending.
  • Deduce a character’s objectives, the problems they encounter, and possible solutions in the stories you tell them.
  • Recognize sounds in spoken words. For example, they’ll know that the word apple begins with an a sound.

How can you help your child progress?

Find out how to support your child’s cognitive development through books. (In French)

Each child is different and develops at their own pace. That said, you can help foster your little one’s development by adopting the Comfort, Play, and Teach parenting approach, which can easily be integrated into your daily routine. The table below outlines small, age-specific actions you can take that will benefit your child’s intellectual development.

When you read stories together,
your child will enjoy spending time with you while improving their comprehension and vocabulary.
When you encourage your child to talk by asking open-ended questions (e.g., “How is this possible?” or "Why do you think this happened?”),
they use their reasoning skills while developing their comprehension and get to practise formulating complex sentences.
When you give your child simple problems to solve (e.g., “What different sounds can you make with your body [fingers, feet, mouth, etc.]?”),
they use their creativity and engage their imagination.
When you create a memory card game based on your child’s interests (e.g., cars, dinosaurs),
they learn to recognize things that are the same and things that are different.
When you let your child tell a story they know well, helping them out as needed,
they learn how to organize the parts of the story into a narrative.
When you use everyday objects or food items to do simple addition and subtraction (e.g., “If I have three apples and I eat one, how many do I have left?”),
your child starts to understand the concepts of more and less and practises basic numeracy skills.
When you point out written words your child sees every day (e.g., on stop signs, cereal boxes, milk cartons, “Beware of dog” signs),
your little one learns that there’s a link between spoken and written words.
When you explain the reasons behind a choice you make,
your child learns how to provide arguments for their own choices and preferences.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, speech-language pathologist, and Noémie Montminy, doctoral student in psychopedagogy at Université Laval.
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2021


Photo: GettyImages/Orbon Alija



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