Your three-year-old is probably filled with boundless energy and supercharged imagination. Their vocabulary is expanding daily, and you are likely enjoying watching your child’s unique personalities begin to shine. They are learning right from wrong and practicing expressing their feelings and desires, which can be an overwhelming and exhausting process (for everyone involved).
Here are some milestones for your child once they reach three years of age. Of course, every child grows at their own pace and reaches milestones in their own time. Your child might have already mastered some of these skills before their third birthday, others might take a little longer to reach three year old milestones. If your child hasn’t reached these by their third birthday, we suggest contacting your pediatrician for more information.
As your little one continues to grow and mature, here are some three year old milestones to identify along the way. Remember, milestones are guidelines. Every child is unique and reaches these milestones in their own time. Your child may master some of these skills long before their third birthday, while others take a little longer to achieve for a variety of reasons.
Movement, Sensory, and Motor Milestones
Three year old milestones in these categories is about practicing all kinds of motor movement and skills. Your preschool-age child is working hard to refine their small muscle movements, and their boundless energy keeps them exploring and trying new things.
You probably notice your child becoming less “clumsy” and more refined in their movements. They can run and walk without tripping over their own feet or smaller obstacles in their way. Your child probably enjoys activities that involve jumping, hopping, standing on one foot, and walking backward. Kids at this age are gaining confidence in these kinds of gross motor skills.
As they get taller and master gross motor skills, your three-year-old should start to climb stairs with reciprocal steps of one foot on each stair.
Most children at this age develop the general ability to kick and throw a small ball and catch larger balls consistently. Has your child started pedaling a tricycle or bike yet? This is another common developmental milestone for three-year-olds.
Playing on playgrounds can be very beneficial for children at this developmental stage. Swings and “unstable” playground equipment can help your child develop balance, coordination, and get them using core muscles in new ways. Tricycles, scooters, balance bikes, and pedal cars are also excellent toys that help children develop balance and gross motor coordination.
Sensory and motor skills
Your child will begin to do more things for themselves and participate in daily self-care activities. Children this age are able to dress and undress with minimal help, button large buttons and use zippers. By age three, children should also be able to wash their face and hands with a little verbal direction. Many kids gain the ability to express the need to use the bathroom.
Your little one should also be able to hold a pencil or crayon with a more “adult” grasp instead of clutching it in a fistted grip. Drawings begin to include straight lines and copying shapes (circles and Xs). Most children start to “snip” with scissors and begin to cut paper with straight lines. Arts and crafts projects that require simple cutting, coloring, gluing, and drawing are excellent for their development.
When reading books, your child should be able to turn the pages one at a time and attend to an age expected story.
Three-year-olds often begin to play with toys that have smaller moving parts or buttons, and they are usually able to build towers of at least six blocks. Toys like Mega Bloks are excellent for this developmental stage because they stimulate creativity and imagination and offer plenty of practice using fine motor skills.
Around the home, your child should be able to work door handles and open twist-on bottle tops with very little assistance. They should be able to eat with a spoon and fork and drink from a cup independently. Though they probably take a little longer to accomplish tasks like buttoning their coat and putting on their shoes, allowing them to do these things on their own instills a sense of independence, responsibility, and accomplishment.
Hearing, Language, and Cognitive Development
Many three-year-olds have a lot to say! By three years old, your toddler’s vocabulary should be around 50 to 100 words. Most children at this age expand their vocabulary quickly and begin to be able to have short two to three sentence dialogues.
Hearing and language milestones
Most kids at this age are able to combine two to three words and their vocabulary is growing rapidly. They typically understand more of what you tell them, even if they don’t always follow your instructions.
By three years of age, many kids can speak well enough for most strangers to understand what they are saying and they are beginning to use grammatical markers like, -ing and plural /s/. Of course, they probably make mistakes with words and phrases that are irregular and don’t follow traditional grammar rules (like saying “mouses” instead of “mice”). They also understand prepositions like “in,” “on,” “under,” and “next.”
One stereotype of this developmental stage that often holds true for three year olds is that kids ask a lot of “wh” questions (like “why” and “where”). They are curious, making observations, and gathering as much information about their world as possible. Some parents laugh about how their child “why’s them to death.”
The cognitive milestones focus on children’s learning, thinking, and problem-solving skills. By age three, most children can work toys that have buttons, levers, and other moving parts. They usually like to create make-believe scenarios with dolls, animals, and other toys. Most three-year-olds can complete simple puzzles with interlocking pieces.
Your child might begin to express fears of certain things, like the dark, monsters under their bed, or being sucked down the drain in the bathtub. Not every child experiences this, and specific fears vary wildly. They are still working to make sense of their world and express their thoughts and emotions.
Social and Emotional Development
Every child is different, and their personalities will impact their social and emotional development. However, there are some common behavioral traits to watch for.
Most three-year-olds frequently copy what they see and hear adults and friends do. They might even mimic what they see on television.
Your child should begin to show an increasing variety of emotions. You may notice they are no longer upset when parents and caregivers leave (like at school or daycare drop-off). Still, they might become distraught when there are changes to their usual routine. Three-year-olds often seem very concerned about their personal needs and wants, sometimes with little regard for others.
Children in this development stage begin to share with others, understand how to take turns, and play with other children instead of playing side-by-side (parallel play). You might even observe your child begin to find simple ways to solve arguments with their peers.
Kids also begin to show affection and concern for others around them. Without prompting, they show concern for an unhappy friend or want to comfort someone hurt or sad.
Many children in this developmental stage create “real-life” scenarios in their play, like playing “kitchen” or pretending to do something they observe parents and caregivers doing.
By age three, your little one should be able to join the rest of the family for meals. It’s essential to help your little one develop a healthy attitude toward food. Three-year-olds should eat a variety of foods from all the food groups with different tastes and textures. Most kids eat three healthy meals a day, and one or two snacks to fuel their growing bodies.
Around this age, your little one should be able to use a spoon and fork with less mess, though they might still observe them use their fingers to eat from time to time. They should also be able to drink from an open cup with minimal liquid loss.
Don’t be surprised if your three-year-old begins to develop strong food preferences. Some children’s preferences vary by the day (or even the meal). Your kid may request a particular food for lunch, then insist that they don’t like it at dinner. As irrational and frustrating as this process is for parents and caregivers, food jags are very typical for this development stage.
When to be concerned
Remember, development milestones are meant to provide a general idea of the growth and changes you can expect to see as your child grows. Every child develops at their own pace and masters skills on their own timeline. It’s impossible to predict when each child will reach a specific milestone.
Consider speaking to your pediatrician if your child does not reach these three year old milestones by their third birthday:
- Throws a ball overhand and can jump in place
- Grasps crayons and other writing tools between their thumb and fingers and can scribble or draw
- Can copy a circle
- Able to stack more than four blocks
- Shows appropriate interest in interactive games
- Interacts with other children and responds to people outside the family
- Participates in self-care activities like dressing, washing, and using the toilet
- Doesn’t cling or cry when parents leave
- Speaks in sentences of more than three words
- Uses “me” and “you” appropriately.
The staff at the Center for Speech & Language Development is here to support you and your child through every development stage. We provide holistic care to help children reach appropriate benchmarks. We also offer excellent resources for parents and caregivers throughout the process. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to schedule a consultation.