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Toddler development

Stages of Play: Three Years Old

Prepare for more independence and thousands of questions.

Stages of Play: Three Years Old

Want to know what to expect from your growing toddler? These guides share general timelines for developmental milestones and how to encourage new stages of play.

What to expect at this stage

Like the first year of your baby’s life, the toddler years come with much growth and learning (both for you and your kiddo). While you’re nearing the end of the toddler years, there is so much fun ahead and much to look forward to.

The only real way to start this section on development is by asking one simple question: Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? At three years old, your child’s brain works hard to connect the dots in their new and fascinating world.

They’re curious and seeking to understand the big world around them. This comes with many questions, the big one being “why.” This is a good thing.

Brain development is rapid at this age, and asking “why” questions can help increase security and confidence.

Speaking of confidence, your kiddo will be testing the limits of their body and its movements.

  • Throwing, catching, kicking, running, jumping, and even galloping or skipping skills will become more coordinated.
  • They’ll reach new heights at the playground—climbing everything within reach: ladders, stairs, and even slides.
  • Swinging high in the sky will thrill them, as will playing in the sandbox with their peers.
  • You may even notice a new (sometimes fierce) determination for independence.
  • Three-year-olds require less hands-on support, so feel free to let them explore.
child laying on the floor painting

How to incorporate play at this stage

Your kiddo is ready to put that peddle to the metal with new coordination skills.

  • Tricycles, balance bikes, and other ride-on/in toys are great fun and a wonderful way to incorporate activity into their day. Make sure to get one of the best toddler bike helmets first.
  • Children often enjoy pushing/pulling wagons, carts, or strollers.
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Another thing you may notice is that their fine motor skills are becoming more refined and precise.

  • Your child’s pencil grasp may still be immature, but they will start showing more control of the pencil and even demonstrate more of a tripod grasp.
  • Scribbles will have more definition, and their drawings will resemble shapes and forms.
  • Most children can draw vertical and horizontal lines, along with simple shapes, such as a circle, at this age.
  • Some children explore tracing and copying the letters of their names.

Craft time will also hit a new level. Depending on their opportunities for practice, your child may be able to open and close scissors and start to cut simple straight lines across the paper.

They’ll love problem-solving and creating at this age and have lots of fun playing with glue, pom poms, sparkles, and more. Hand preference (i.e., using the same hand for one activity and perhaps a different hand for another activity) is usually formed by about two to three years of age.

It is pretty standard for children at this age to use different hands for different activities (i.e., right hand for cutting, left hand for coloring, left or right for eating).

Hand dominance (using the same hand for most activities) doesn’t start until four to six years.

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As for other activities, there are many options for exploration and play.

  • Your kiddo will likely be ready to interlock larger puzzles (six to 12 pieces is a good number to aim for).
  • Stringing beads, block towers and lacing shapes are another great way to practice those fine motor skills and keep your child busy.
  • You may also notice more creativity while playing with modeling clay or Play-Doh.
toddler helping her mom fold laundry

Children this age also love sorting and organizing. While I’m sure we’d love their help with the laundry—organizing a small pile of toys (such as cars) into color, size, and category is much more fun.

  • Make the most of clean-up time and encourage your child to sort their toys into appropriate bins and buckets.
  • Your three-year-old will also enjoy pouring from one container to another, so allow them to practice this in the kitchen while baking or cooking together.

At three years, your child will likely be able to take their clothes off independently and start putting them on alone but don’t be surprised if they still ask for your help at times.

It is 100 percent okay to help them when they need it. They will still need help with clothing fasteners, but let them experiment by trying some or all of them independently.

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Your child will also enjoy some autonomy in choosing their own clothes. Giving them a choice of two options is best, as more will likely overwhelm them and make a choice more difficult (and time-consuming).

Has your little one older than three years? Check out the rest of our stages of play guide covering up to four years old.

This article was originally published on Apr 01, 2023

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