Tips for Tots: Terrific Threes

By Anne A. McGrady

The busy exploration of a three year old begins with wonder as he/she begins watching, observing, perfecting motor skills and imitating others. Each stage of growth is so remarkable to observe. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost each day brings some new, exciting proficiency in this stage of development.

Here is a short list of some things parents, caregivers can expect from their three year olds:


• Run well.

• March.

• Stand on one foot briefly.

• Feed himself well.

• Put on shoes and stockings.

• Unbutton and button his clothes.

• Be able to build a tower of 10 cubes.

• Be able to pour from a pitcher.

• Use crayons.

• Jump up and down.

• Begin pedaling a riding toy (tricycle).

• Throw a ball and catch it.

• Sort two objects that match.



• Like animals and stories.

• Be curious.

• Use fantasy to make sense out of what he/she doesn’t understand (magical thinking is common.)

• Speak in longer sentences.

• Tell simple stories.

• Use words as tools of thought.

• Want to understand his environment.

• Answer questions.

• Be able to reason out questions like “what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?”

• Be imaginative.

• Stutter for a brief period (maybe).

• Have a vocabulary of an average of 896 words.

• Use the pronouns I, you, and me correctly.

• Use some plurals and past tenses.

• Know at least three prepositions (usually in, on and under).

• Know chief parts of body and be able to indicate them (if not name them).

• Handle three word sentences easily.

• Begin to use verbs with great frequency.

• Understand simple questions dealing with his environment and activities.

• Relate his experiences so that they can be followed (with reason).

• Be able to give his name, age and sex.

• Talk in short sentences to express feelings.

• Ask “What?” and “Why?” questions.



• Want to please others and want to adapt.

• Be increasingly interested in social play, but prefer to play by himself or with one other person.

• Want to imitate others in play (especially parents).

• Enjoy being with other children.

• Begin to show cooperation with adults.

• Begin to distinguish other’s intentional acts from unintentional acts.

• Try to please adults with his answers.

• Take turns.

• Enjoy brief group activities requiring no skill.

• Enjoy “helping” in small ways, responding to verbal guidance.

• Enjoy conforming.

• Have an easy going attitude.

• Be less resistant to change.

• Be more secure.

• Have a greater sense of personal identity.

• Begin to be adventuresome.

• Enjoy music.

• Play with others and share toys sometimes.

• Have a fear of separation.

• Have violent emotions and anger (throws tantrums).

• Differentiate facial expressions of anger, sorry, and joy.

• Show a sense of humor, play tricks.



• Spills small amount from spoon.

• Begins to use fork; holds it in fist.

• Use adult pattern of chewing, which involves rotary action of jaw.



• Patient toileting

• Encourage development – eye/hand coordination – large buttons

• 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.

• Provide books for children to read and read the same books to them.

• Count objects of interest – for example cookies, cups, napkins, or dolls.

• Provide sets – toys and other objects that go together. Discuss similarities and differences.

• Sing simple songs. Make simple rhythm instruments – oatmeal box or coffee can drums, rattles of dry beans in a box, etc.

• 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.

Reference: Early Motherhood/3 Year Old Milestones



• Splat the Cat, Where’s the Easter Bunny?, Rob Scolton, Harper Pub., 2011, Ages 4-8 years

Lift the flap adventure of Splat telling Easter Bunny what he wants most – a bit Easter egg but where is the Easter Bunny?


• Oh, So Tiny Bunny, David Kirk, Fewel & Friends Book, 2013, 3-6 years

(Adventures of an Oh So Tiny a Bunny with very big dreams)