Can 4-Year-Olds Read and Write? Educational Norms & Goals

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Your child is rapidly gaining independence, leaving behind the awkward and mischievous tendencies of toddlerhood. The change from toddler to preschooler can occur seemingly overnight. The skills acquired between the ages of 3 and 5 are crucial for preparing your child for school.

Can 4-year-olds read and write? It is possible for 4-year-olds to read and write as early literacy skills are often emerging at this age. Some 4-year-olds can copy or trace letters, showing beginner skills in letter formation. Most 4-year-olds are working on phonemic awareness, letter identification, and high-frequency words.

Encouraging your 4-year-old to read and write should be done gently through play. By identifying what your 4-year-old knows and should know, you can choose activities, toys, and books that best support their developing skills. 

What Should a 4-Year-Old Know Educationally?

Deciding what is normal and abnormal falls to a list of milestones and developmental markers.

There is a wide range of what is considered normal development as skills develop at different rates. Developmental milestones are indicators that imply what skills your child should know.

4-Year-Old Reading Skills

Early reading skills will develop in partnership with your child’s language skills.

By age four, your child should be able to:

  • Identify some letters of the alphabet
  • Name beginning sounds of letters or words
  • Retell stories
  • Differentiate between letters and numbers
  • Engage in rhyming word games
  • Match some letters to sounds
  • Recognize familiar words, signs, pictures/symbols

4-Year-Old Writing Skills

Fine and gross motor skills will determine early writing readiness. Grip, stamina, and strength are necessary for successful writing.

By age four, your child should be able to:

  • Complete pre-writing strokes, including circles and vertical and horizontal lines
  • Trace lines and letters
  • Copy familiar letters
  • Color
  • Begin using scissors with mild accuracy
  • Start using a tripod grip: holding a writing instrument with their thumb and pointer finger while resting it on the joint of their middle finger

Not all of these skills must be mastered by age four. These are emerging skills that will continue to grow as your child practices.

4-Year-Old Math Skills

Basic math skills begin with rote counting and noticing quantity. Differentiating between numbers and letters is the first step in visual math skills.

At the age of 4, your child should be able to:

  • Sort, organize, and differentiate between objects
  • Identify at least three shapes
  • Identify four or more colors
  • Count to 10
  • Begin identifying numbers 1 – 10

Math skills are still in the early stages at age four. Repetition, play, and practice boost math knowledge and encourage kids to exceed milestone expectations.

4-Year-Old Social Skills

Social-emotional growth is abundant during preschool years. Social skills emerge rapidly as children seek independence and friendship outside their inner family circle. 


By the age of 4, children are blossoming into social creatures. They would rather play with others than be alone.

Four-year-olds begin seeking new experiences and expressing personal tastes. By 4, children seek independence and will attempt new tasks to display independence.


Your child may now play more cooperatively with other children to seek happiness. The concepts of “game rules” and sharing are new skills making playtime more reciprocal.

Your 4-year-old’s playtime may evolve from direct play into creative make-believe play.


Four-year-olds are now actively seeking to make others happy. They will begin to display more desirable and socially acceptable behavior. They will also begin to negotiate solutions to conflict rather than throw a tantrum.

By understanding rules and boundaries, your child behaves with more respect for their environment and the people in it. 


Four-year-olds express emotions verbally rather than physically. They can communicate likes and dislikes. By understanding their emotions, they can obey and think logically before acting.


Four-year-olds understand obedience. They are displaying more obedient behavior by following two- or three-step directions, showing respect for people and their environment, and acting with the intent to please others.

A little girl in a yellow shirt sitting on the floor at a library looking at a book.

4-Year-Old Fine Motor Skills

Children learn through play, and that is exactly what they should be doing. They should be running, jumping, throwing, and kicking.

At 4 years old, your child should be able to:

  • Use a fork and spoon
  • Cut with scissors
  • Trace or copy lines, shapes, or letters
  • Draw a person with a body
  • Stack 10 or more objects
  • Dress independently

Your child’s quest for independence keeps motor skills sharp and evolving.

What Should a 4-Year-Old Know Before Starting School?

The skills your child learns at home are essential to school readiness. Before your child heads off to school, they should be able to express themselves. The expression doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be understandable.

Your child should be able to play with others amicably and have the ability to express wants, needs, and emotions. Social skills ranging from turn-taking to asking for help are essential skills for children starting school.

Four-year-olds should know how to feed and dress themselves. Being able to use the toilet and express toileting needs is crucial for school-aged children.

Academic practice before your child starts school isn’t required but is very helpful. Practicing, identifying, and sorting are skills that are applicable to objects, letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.

These basic academic skills are beneficial for your child to know before starting school. 

How To Develop Language Skills in a 4-Year-Old

Development in your child’s language and early literacy skills happens through everyday interactions. Language skills develop through:

  • Play – Skills develop through playing together and with academic toys/resources
  • Communication – Talk to your child, talk about your day, ask questions, and narrate
  • Reading – Read together! Books that have repetition and rhyming are great tools for language development
  • Music – Sing songs or listen to educational/repetitive songs 

Anything you can do to boost communication and listening skills will support language development.

Signs of Reading Readiness

Reading readiness stems from interest. If your child is interested in reading, they will be motivated to learn the proper steps necessary to be a successful reader.

If your child can…

  • Identify all or some of their letters
  • Understand that letters make sounds
  • Retell a story with context

… they could be showing you signs that they are ready to read.

Is My Child Ready for Preschool?

Determining whether or not your child would benefit from preschool stems from two key readiness aspects: social-emotional and physical.

Social-Emotional – Can your child separate away from you without anxiety? Do they play well with peers? Are they able to tolerate exposure to over-stimulation and extended period of sensory input? Can they express themselves?

Physical – Are they potty trained? Can they feed and dress themselves?

If you answered “Yes” to all of these questions, your child could be ready for preschool.

Related Questions: 

Should a 4-Year-Old Be Potty Trained?

Yes, a 4-year-old should be potty trained, especially before starting school. If your child is struggling with this accomplishment, talk to your pediatrician about any stress in your child’s life, but know that accidents at this age are completely normal.

What Age Should a Child Read Fluently?

Children should be able to read fluently by 2nd grade between the ages of 6 and 8 years old. Of course, there are exceptions, and many children can read well by the age of 4 while others still may not be quite fluent at 9 years old.

Final Thoughts

All children grow and develop at their own pace. Don’t worry if your child hasn’t reached all of their milestones at a specific time.

Children learn through play and daily interactions. By communicating and playing with your child, you are encouraging positive development.

Your child should be gradually learning new skills and meeting developmental markers. If you notice any delay in development or regression of skills, talk to your primary health care provider.