Mnemonic Monday: Back to Preschool!! Mnemonics for Pediatric Fine Motor Skills Milestones

By Molly Lewis

In your Step 1 prep, you’ll most likely run across questions similar to this: “A mother brings her 4-year-old son into the pediatrician for a well-child visit. The boy is able to hop on one foot, has imaginary friends, can speak with prepositions, and can copy a circle. How is his development in terms of fine motor, gross motor, social, and verbal skills?

The answer choices include about a million permutations of “gross motor normal, fine motor abnormal, verbal abnormal, social normal” or “gross motor normal, fine motor abnormal, verbal normal, social normal,” etc, etc, etc. What happens if you recall the intricate details of gross motor, verbal, and social milestones, but just can’t remember which shape the boy should be able to draw? So frustrating!

To add to the confusion, the shapes don’t seem to follow a logical order (Why is a triangle harder to draw than a square? A triangle involves three lines, and a square has four lines!). Here are a few mnemonics to help you out!

Alphabetical Order:

(my personal favorite!) The only shape that doesn’t fit is the diamond.

  • Circle (3 yrs)
  • Cross (4 yrs)
  • Rectangle (4-5 yrs)
  • Square (5 yrs)
  • Triangle (6 yrs)
  • Diamond (7 yrs)


See the diagram to the right. If the circle at 3 years is the head (with little 3’s for ears!), the square is the body, and the triangle is the skirt, the cross goes around the neck to make a bling-wearing, modern-art lady!

Video gaming:

I have to say, I haven’t used a PlayStation since high school (Yay for Mario Kart!), but if you’re familiar with the PlayStation controller, the shapes are in clockwise order on the PlayStation controller! Start at the circle: it’s in the 3 o’ clock position, and it’s the shape the child should be able to draw at 3 years old. Then, continue around clockwise!

What tricks do you use to remember childhood developmental milestones? Post them below! Or, check back later to see if anyone has posted a mnemonic that would work for you!

(By the way, the child in the sample question is normal in terms of gross motor, verbal, and social skills, but, as we learned from the mnemonics, he should be able to draw a cross, not just a circle!).



Alphabetical and video game mnemonics:

Diagram mnemonic:

PlayStation controller picture:


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