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Physical Development of 4-Year-Old Children

author image Jennifer Burger
Jennifer Burger has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her experience includes producing web content and creating marketing materials for small businesses. Burger's specialty is writing about health and parenting, but she has articles published on a wide variety of topics.
Physical Development of 4-Year-Old Children
A typical 4-year-old can catch a ball that's thrown from 5 feet away. Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Four-year-olds can be a joy to be around, as they quickly learn new skills and gain insight into the world that surrounds them. Unlike infants, they also have the language ability to share their unique perspectives. Physical development and rapid expansion of motor skills help account for the sense of wonder that's exuded by many preschoolers.

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Physical Appearance

As 4-year-olds grow, they look more like older children and less like toddlers because their bodies are changing in proportion. Their legs and trunks grow relatively quickly, with little change in the sizes of their heads. They've lost nearly all of their baby fat by this time, and their abdomens become flatter. According to KidsHealth, the average child is 40 inches tall and just over 40 lbs. at four years old.

Internal Development

Breathing and heart rates gradually slow down at this age, which is a trend that begins in infancy and continues through adolescence. Parents may notice that preschoolers use the bathroom less frequently due to growth of the bladder. Brain development continues to be rapid in 4-year-olds, causing improved coordination, motor skills, and ability to plan. In fact, the brain is more active during this year than at any other age, according to the Parenting Literacy website.

Fine Motor Skills

Average 4-year-olds gain the ability to cut straight lines and cut out shapes with scissors, draw squares, and trace simple shapes like diamonds. They usually have a noticeable preference for the right or left hand. They are able to participate more in self care by brushing their own teeth and, for the most part, dressing and undressing themselves. Zipping coats and tying bows are still beyond the abilities of many preschoolers.

Gross Motor Skills

Most 4-year-olds can run, jump and ride a tricycle. Their sense of balance is increasing, and they're able to stand on one foot for at least 5 seconds. Four-year-olds are learning how to skip and becoming better at climbing. They can walk heel-to-toe and walk backward slowly. Playing with a ball may become more fun as children develop the abilities to catch and throw more accurately during this year.


Rates of physical development vary considerably among healthy children. Genetics plays a big role in how fast they grow and learn new skills. You can help your child develop optimally by providing a healthy diet, 10-12 hours of sleep per night, and an emotionally safe environment. Exercise is also important at any age. KidsHealth recommends that 4-year-olds should be physically active for at least one hour every day.

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