Learning Objectives for Three-Year-Olds

By Martha Mendenhall
Riding a tricycle helps your three year-old develop large motor skills.
Riding a tricycle helps your three year-old develop large motor skills.

Should you start your three year-old on a musical instrument or enroll him in a foreign language class? How about T-ball or soccer? Though you may be tempted to consider learning opportunities for your three year-old purely from the perspective of structured lessons or teams, understanding how he measures up to developmental milestones will help you identify age-appropriate learning objectives.

Large Motor Skills

Encourage your three year-old to develop his large motor skills by helping him master running, climbing and tricycle riding. Add a daily trip to a local park where he can climb a jungle gym or spend the afternoon in your backyard, if you own your own play structure. Pedaling a tricycle can take some time and effort, so stick with your child as he practices the pushing motion required to get his trike moving. Taking the time to use the stairs when out and about with your youngster will also help him develop age-appropriate coordination.

Small Motor Skills

Three year-olds need practice with smaller, more detail-oriented tasks in order to develop their dexterity, especially with hands and fingers. Building with snap-and-lock construction toys such as Duplos and Legos, building towers with blocks and working simple puzzles will challenge your youngster appropriately. Help him learn to draw simple shapes such as circles, squares and triangles. Let him practice screwing and unscrewing jar lids. Encourage him to turn the pages of the book when you read him a story. You’ll be setting the stage for more advanced small motor skill development as he grows.

Language Development

Assist your three-year-old in developing age-appropriate language skills by challenging him to move past “baby talk.” Speak to him in complete sentences, modeling more grown-up words for him. Let him help with simple household chores by giving him two- or three-step instructions to follow. For example, ask him to open the cabinet, take out a box of pasta and set it on the counter. Encourage him to expand his vocabulary by helping him learn the names of new friends he meets. Allow him to introduce himself, helping him learn to speak clearly enough to be understood by a stranger when telling his name and age.

Emotional and Social Development

Though emotional and social development won't directly translate into academic achievement, your three-year-old’s growth in these areas is important. Provide ample opportunity for your youngster to interact with other children his age by introducing him to others on neutral territory, such as a neighborhood park. While there, guide him in taking turns and sharing. For sandbox play, bring along an extra shovel at first, so that he can share without losing his turn. Notice and allow his displays of emotion when possible. Cries of “Mine!” may be less generous than you would like, but they do display an age-appropriate understanding of ownership. You can also foster your child’s caring side by acknowledging his shows of empathy and affection toward family members and pets.