Lesia Oesterreich, M.S.
Family Life Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University
The 3-year-old is full of wonder and spends a lot of time watching, observing, and imitating. Their days are filled with busy exploration of their world.
Three-year-olds are interested in perfecting motor skills, and it is common for them to spend the entire morning going down the slide or riding a favorite tricycle.
Three-year-olds have very little memory for past events and do not understand “yesterday” and “tomorrow” the way adults do. They often repeat activities or may do and undo actions such as putting a puzzle together. These sequences are important to later understandings of change and consistency.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
IDEAS FOR CAREGIVERS
- Be patient with toileting. Many children (especially boys) will not be ready for toilet learning until after age 3. Accidents will happen for a while; treat accidents calmly and matter of factly. Avoid shaming a child.
- Encourage development of hand-eye coordination by providing large buttons or old beads to string on a shoe lace.
- Play ball – show children how to throw, catch, and kick balls of different sizes.
- Show children how to hop like a rabbit, tiptoe like a bird, waddle like a duck, slither like a snake, and run like a deer.
- Talk frequently with children; use short sentences, ask questions, and listen.
- Add new information to your children's sentences. “Yes that's a flower – it's a tall, red flower and it smells so good.”
- Teach children to memorize first and last names.
- Provide books for children to read, and read the same books to them. Read poetry and nursery rhymes. Encourage a child to repeat a story and discuss the ideas and events. Read titles and point to important words on pages, packages, and street signs.
- Encourage interest in reading and writing by sharing a grocery list or note for parents. Provide paper, small notebooks, and markers for use in dramatic play.
- Count objects of interest; for example cookies, cups, napkins, or dolls. When possible, move one at a time as you and the children count. Measure, and have children help measure and count as you follow a recipe.
- Explain why and how things happen with the help of a reference book. Help them do simple science activities like magnetic attraction, freezing water, planting seeds, making a terrarium, and flying kites on a windy day.
- Provide sets – toys and other objects that go together. Discuss similarities and differences. For example, point out sequences in cooking. Let children experiment with faucets, tools, light switches, knobs, latches, and toys that come apart.
- Sing simple songs. Make simple rhythm instruments: oatmeal box or coffee can drums, rattles of dry beans in a box, etc. Encourage a variety of body movements and dance to music of many kinds. Play musical games such as “London Bridge,” “Ring-around-the-Rosie,” and “Farmer in the Dell.”
- Encourage free expression in art projects. Avoid asking “what” children are drawing. Three-year-olds may not know or care, but simply enjoy the process of drawing.
- Ask parents to bring baby pictures. Talk about “When you were a baby.”
- Draw a face on an old sock and show children how to “talk” with puppets.
- Talk about colors, numbers, and shapes in your everyday conversation. “We need ONE egg. That's a RED car. The butter is in this SQUARE box.”
- Ask for help with very simple household tasks such as putting the napkins by each plate, putting socks in the drawer, watering plants, or stirring the muffin batter.