Physical Development of the Three-Year-Old

By the beginning of her third year, a preschooler is becoming very active and agile. The rapid physical development of a 3-year-old’s brain shows marked advancement of her cognitive abilities. At the same time, her increasing body size and the improved coordination of her large and small motor skills show just how fast she is growing up.

Cognitive Development

By the time a child reaches 3 years of age, his brain has developed enough so he will become talkative and speak clearly. A 3-year-old will begin to use his imagination to tell tales and he will become highly inquisitive, testing the limits of a parent's patience with a string of constant “why” questions, such as “Why can’t dogs talk?” His memory will become developed enough so he will remember his name, age and his favorite parts of familiar stories. He will be able to identify colors, shapes and objects, such as a ball, and be able to count. He will begin to develop an idea of abstract, but simple, concepts like time in a linear manner, such as:

  • morning
  • afternoon
  • night

Size and Growth

A 3-year-old will lose the stubby chubbiness of her hands and fingers and develop a more slender, elongated body frame and begin holding her head and shoulders more erect. By age 3 a child has received her full set of baby teeth and her face will lengthen and her jaw will begin to widen, making room for her permanent teeth. She will gain more control over her bowls and bladder and should have far fewer accidents during the night.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross, or large, motor skills are the first to develop; they control movements of locomotion and the trunk such as sitting, standing and walking. By 3 years of age a child will be able to walk upright on his own; run, although it may look more like stumbling; and climb stairs, sometimes needing to use his hands for balance to move to the next step. He will be able to jump in the air, slightly, on two feet and may begin to develop enough balance to try hopping on one foot. He will have enough upper-body strength to pull his toy wagon and push a door shut. He can do somersaults, pedal a tricycle and toss a ball -- a few feet -- with both hands.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine, or small, motor skills allow children to execute delicate movements with their arms, hands and feet. She will be able to cut paper with scissors, although not in a straight line, manipulate small objects and put together simple puzzles and stack blocks. She will be able to turn the page of a book and begin to lace -- but not tie -- her shoes.