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Parent's Corner : Ages & Stages > Three's

Developmental Milestones: 
A Guide for Parents The Third Year

Have you ever wondered how your child is growing and developing compared to other children of the same age? How do you know if your child is "on the right track"?

Your child is going through many physical and mental changes. Although no two children grow at the same rate, experts agree there are "normal" signs of development. This brochure will provide you with a checklist of important milestones in your child's development during the third year of life.

It is a simple tool you can use to be aware of and appreciate the dramatic changes that are occurring in your child. Watch for these signs in your child over a one month period. (Even children have "bad days.") Remember, each child is different and may learn and grow at a different rate. However, if your child cannot do many of the skills listed for his or her age group, you should consult your pediatrician. If your child was born earlier than expected, be sure to deduct the number of months born early from his or her age. A 5-month-old born 2 months early would be expected to show the same skills as a 3-month-old who was born on his or her due date. Several additional sources of information are listed on the back of this brochure.

You are the most important observer of your child's development. If your child has special needs, early help can make a difference.

By 3 years of age does your child:

Motor Skills

feed himself (with some spilling)
open doors
hold a glass in one hand
hold a crayon well
wash and dry hands by himself
fold paper, if shown how
build a tower of 5-4 blocks
throw a ball overhead
try to catch a large ball
put on shoes (but not tie laces)
dress herself with help
use the toilet with some help
walk up steps, alternating feet
walk on tiptoes if shown how
walk in a straight line
kick a ball forward
jump with both feet
pedal a tricycle

Sensory and Thinking Skills

recognize sounds in the environment
pay attention for about 3 minutes
remember what happened yesterday
know what is food and what is not food
know some numbers (but not always in the right order)
know where things usually belong
understand what "1" is
understand "now," "soon," and "later"
substitute one object for another in pretend play (as in pretending a block is a "car")
laugh at silly ideas (like "milking" a dog)
look through a book alone
match circles and squares
match an object to a picture of that object
match objects that have same function (as in putting a cup and plate together)
count 2 to 3 objects
avoid some dangers, like a hot stove or a moving car
follow simple one-step commands

Language and Social Skills

use 3-5 word sentences
ask short questions
use plurals ("dogs," "cars," "hats")
name at least 10 familiar objects
repeat simple rhymes
name at least one color correctly
imitate housework or help with simple tasks
ask to use the toilet almost every time
enjoy being read to
talk about feelings and mental states (e.g., remembering)
demonstrate some shame when caught in a wrongdoing
try to make others laugh
play spontaneously with two or three children in a group
assign roles in pretend social play ("You be mommy;" "I be daddy")
know her first and last name
understand "I," "you," "he," and "she"
believe everything centers around him ("if I hide my eyes, no one will see me")
answer whether she is a boy or girl

If you have questions about your child's development or want to have your child tested,

  • call your pediatrician
  • the local health department

The developmental information provided in this bulletin has been synthesized from a variety of professional resources to help you appreciate your child's progress. It is not a formal, standardized measurement tool.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Powell, J. and Smith, C.A. (1994). The 3rd year. In *Developmental milestones: A guide for parents*. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service.



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