Toothbrushes, shoe laces and baths: Milestone guidelines for your preschooler


Preschoolers get a raw deal. Once they've made it to the talking and walking phase we start to worry less about how on track they are in their development and tend to neglect teaching them self-help skills like dressing themselves, using utensils and eating without making a mess. 

They're not babies anymore and we expect them to be able to do certain things for themselves. But at what age should they be able to do what? 

"There are specific age norms by when we can expect certain skills to emerge, but this is a broad guideline as each child develops at their own pace," says Cornelia Liebentritt, an occupational therapist at the Cape Town-based Success Therapy Centre where children and adults are assisted with sensory integration and learning difficulties. 

What are you biggest concerns around your toddler's development? Tell us by emailing to and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.  

Cornelia advises that entering preschool is an important marker since it requires that a child be capable enough for the level of care provided at a crèche, daycare, nursery school or preschool

"It is of utmost importance for a child entering preschool (which often happens when a child is just 3 and a half years old) to start developing some independence and self-help skills."

At this age, a child should be able to use a toilet on their own, open and close snack containers and packets and drink from a bottle without assistance. 

If your child cannot do these things just yet, don't rush them but be observant for when they're ready to learn. 

"Watching a child's cues can prompt us for when they are ready to master a skill." 

Being mindful of how children learn is also important since being able to do things in stages is normal. 

"Skills are learned in parts, for example a child will learn to pull their pants up long before they have the skill to dress independently, choose which pants to wear according to the weather and the planned activities for the day, orientating the legs correctly, doing the button and the zipper." 

Here are a few more milestones for ages 3-6: 

Cornelia offers these guidelines:

Milestone guidelines for age 3: 

  • Being potty trained. This includes being able to ask to use the bathroom, pulling up pants and underwear wiping themselves, flushing the loo and washing hands.
  • Independence during snack time e.g. is able to unzip their own lunch cooler bag, opening and closing plastic containers, opening packets and opening and drinking from their own juice bottle.
  • Practising dressing themselves. Although they might still need a little help with fasteners e.g. buttons/zippers etc. 

Milestone guidelines for age 4: 

  • Start eating independently using a fork and spoon 
  • Undress without help 
  • Brush teeth
  • Put on their own shoes (the kind with velcro straps)

Milestone guidelines for age 5: 

  • Dress independently
  • Puts on own shoes (the kind with buckles) 
  • Set the table
  • Wash themselves 
  • Make a simple sandwich e.g. peanut butter and honey
  • Pour juice from a box into a glass without spilling

Milestone guidelines for age 6: 

  • Start learning how to do shoelaces
  • Bath, dry and dress self
  • Brush own hair
  • Tidy up own toys

What are you biggest concerns around your toddler's development? Tell us by emailing to and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.  

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