What to Teach a Three-Year-Old: Building a Foundation to Raise a Lifelong Learner

You made it through the terrible twos and now you have a growing preschooler! You may be wondering what to teach a three-year-old now they’re able to understand more about their environment and surroundings. Your child will soon not be a toddler anymore – she is on her way to becoming a young child with vivid imagination and language skills.

There are a lot of things going on at age 3. Your child is trying to build relationships, learning to manage their feelings, and they are more curious than ever.


Developmental Milestones of 3-Year-Olds

To help our 3-year-olds learn effectively without overwhelming them, we should first take a look at their physical and emotional development milestones. Keep in mind that the things we teach and the methods we take must be age-appropriate.

Physical milestones

At age three, children can already easily walk forward and backward and alternate their feet – with one foot per step – as they walk up and downstairs. They can climb well, run easily, and start to pedal a three-wheel bike.

Children at this age should be able to turn a page in a book, draw a stick person comprising of two to four body parts, and build a tower with three to four blocks. They can copy circles and squares, write some capital letters, and turn rotating handles.

Intellectual & cognitive milestones

Your child’s imagination is running wild at age 3, and they will start asking a lot of questions, particularly “why” questions. At this time, your child’s memory is developing and they should be able to follow three-part commands and correctly name familiar colors.

Your three-year-old should also be able to understand the concept of same and different and understand time in terms of parts of the day (morning, afternoon, and night). By this age, children should be able to recognize and correctly identify objects and pictures that they commonly see around them.

Socio-emotional milestones

Three-year-olds know how to show affection for family and friends, and often show it without prompting.  Your child already knows the difference between different emotions: angry, sad, happy, and afraid. They are now starting to understand the idea of what is “mine” and what is “his” or “hers.”

They also know how to take turns in games and show concern for a friend or sibling who is upset. Since their imaginations are very vivid at this time, they may start to develop unrealistic fears. They really like routine and tend to get upset with big changes.

Language and Communication Milestones

Your child will start to talk a lot starting at age three. Children will learn new words by listening to adults or by listening to stories. Your little one should be able to say his or her name, age, gender, answer simple questions, and speak in short sentences of about five to six words.

Three-year-old kids are also able to say the name of familiar things around them. They are capable of having conversations using two to three sentences at a time.


What To Teach A Three-Year-Old?

At this age, our little ones are still learning by playing with toys, hanging out with friends, and observing their parents. Some children also start showing unique interest in specific activities or objects.

As their best teacher, what should we teach our three-year-olds?

Opportunity to make choices for themselves

Allow your child to make simple choices. You need to narrow it down to two choices because they might get overwhelmed with three or more options. For instance, you can ask: “What game do you want to play today – blocks or cars?” or “What do you want to wear today – the blue dress or the yellow dress?”

Take care of themselves

Allow your child to be more independent with self-care, particularly using the bathroom, using utensils, and brushing their teeth and hair. They can already help remove and put on clothing, so you can start letting them get dressed on their own. Teach them to learn the right way to put on items of clothing (backward and forwards, left and right).  They should also be taught how to clean up – putting away toys, washing their hands, and using a washcloth.

Memorizing and telling stories

By three, your child should be able to remember parts of a story. Read aloud simple storybooks to your child and talk about the main character, the beginning, and the end of the story. They should be able to understand what is happening in the book by looking at the pictures. Show your child how they can relate to what the characters feel. This process helps your child express feelings.

Learning through playing

A three-year-old child learns a lot from playing. They develop new skills from both structured and unstructured play. Therefore, give your child lots of playtime. Use games as you practice counting from 1 to 10 or in identifying colors, shapes, and letters.  Sing or recite nursery rhymes together.

Dealing with conflicts

Three-year-old children should be allowed opportunities to play with children their age. Teach them to make up after hurting other kids’ feelings and how to handle conflicts while playing with others.


A Few Tips for Parents

Teaching a three-year-old is fun because they are such quick learners. They are always curious about the world and have loads of questions.

This generation is born into a world filled with technology tools and gadgets. Their learning style and media are quite different from ours. So here are some important tips to keep in mind while we facilitate their journey of learning.

Safety is still the number one priority

Unlike infants or small toddlers, three-year-old kids are much more capable of moving around and they never lack the confidence to give it a try.

Therefore, your three-year-old will try to explore and do new things that can be harmful to them. I know it can be tiring but we should always keep an eye on them. We want to keep them from falling, slipping, getting burned, eating poisonous substances, or any other potentially dangerous situations.

There are several tips from the CDC website about child safety.

  • Inform your kids about why it’s important to not play in the street and stay away from oncoming traffic.
  • Always wear the proper protection while riding her tricycle and ride them on the sidewalk and away from the street.
  • Inspect outdoor playground equipment to ensure that there are no loose parts or sharp things that may hurt her as she’s playing.
  • During the summer it’s a great time to start getting her exposed to swimming, but be sure to keep a watch for her at all times
  • Teach her how to be safe around strangers and not interact with unknown adults.

Take enough sleep by establishing a good bedtime routine

Let’s admit it – no three-year-olds like to go to sleep. Kids at this age are very energetic and never have a dull moment during the day. That’s part of the reason why many toddlers don’t get enough sleep.

However, sleeping for three-year-olds is not only to get enough rest but also a critical way for their brain to develop. Creating a consistent bedtime routine will help with nightmares and midnight wakings. Good sleep quality can help our children stay more focused during the day.

Limit the use of technology.

Limit and monitor the use of technology by keeping TVs, tablets, and smartphones out of your child’s bedroom. Screen time should be strictly limited to 1 hour of high-quality, educational apps or programs. Watch the program together with your child and discuss it together.

Bottom Line

Parents always don’t realize how fast time flies until they suddenly realize their children are becoming independent. For three-year-olds, we are no longer their whole worlds as they start making friends with other children and even teachers. However, we are still the biggest role models and pride. Enjoy the precious time hanging out with your three-year-old.