3-Year-Old Development: Cognitive Milestones
Your toddler is growing bigger and smarter by the day. Know which development milestones your 3-year-old is reaching so you can support and encourage her.
A 3-year-old enjoys all the world has to offer and wants to soak it all in. With your little one officially a preschooler, watching her imagination take flight is exciting. She's beginning to think for herself and make logical connections and is developing the ability to really communicate and make sense of her daily schedule. "They become much more teachable at 3 as their cognitive milestones develop," says education and child development specialist Dr. Marian Fritzemeier, founder of From Diapers to Diamonds. "Cognitive development at this age is all about how children learn and process information. They are becoming much more cooperative and have extensive verbal skills."
Here are some 3-year-old development milestones to look for over the coming year:
And read our guide to developmental milestones for kids .
Your child is learning some preschool basics this year. She should correctly name some colors and may even know a few numbers, according to the Amercian Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Dr. Fritzemeier adds that your tot may know the alphabet and understand the concept of counting by the time she turns 4 -- that one apple represents one thing, and two apples represents two things. Your little one is becoming a better problem solver, too, which usually means she wants to do everything herself -- even if she can't. Let her try, but be patient. Her motor skills will eventually catch up with her cognitive skills.
The concept of time is also starting to make more sense this year, as your 3-year-old starts to understand the parts of the day. Your tot will be more imaginative and will engage in more involved fantasy play, so she might visit Elsa in her frozen castle one day and turn into a superhero the next. She will start to tell you more about her day as her ability to remember and recall parts of a story improves. You'll be amazed at the silly tales she'll tell.
All parents worry about what kids' development, but Dr. Danelle Frisbie, a positive-parenting expert and founder of Peaceful Parenting, says to remember that your child should grow, learn, explore and discover at her own pace. "You should not be concerned with her hitting benchmarks at the same time as her peers," she says. With your guidance, development will occur naturally.
How to Help
"The best way to support your 3-year-old's cognitive development is to support her language development," Dr. Fritzemeier says. "And the best way to support her language development is by talking to her all the time, and reading to her every day."
It's also important to give kids the chance to make choices in order to develop their problem-solving skills. "Go to the grocery store and give your child a list of things she has to find and pick out herself," Dr. Fritzemeier says. These everyday activities build cognitive skills in a way that is fun for a child.
Another everyday task your little one can help with is meal prep. "Cooking is one of the best activities you can do with your kids to build cognitive skills," Dr. Fritzemeier says. "Let her measure out the list of ingredients, talking about them along the way." Cooking lets kids learn about counting and sorting concepts, which is the precursor to math skills. "Your preschooler is a natural learner at this stage, and doesn't need formal lessons to figure things out. Instead, give her lots of ways to explore the world on her own."
This is the age when kids are getting ready for school, and you can see those verbal and cognitive skills really develop. Don't worry too much if your child isn't hitting the 3-year-old development milestones at the same time as other kids. Instead, Dr. Frisbie says to focus on what your child can do and what she enjoys.
For more, check out our Overview of Milestones for 3 Year Olds .
Amy Aitman is a professional freelance writer and writes her own mommy blog, mommypatter. She knows what it's like to worry about a child's development -- her now 4-year-old has some cognitive and language delays, but is improving through early intervention and support.