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3-Year-Old Milestones: Overview

Victoria Georgoff
June 8, 2017

Check out this checklist of your child's development milestones at 3 years of age.


It seems like just yesterday that you brought your little bundle of joy home from the hospital, but here he is, blowing out three candles on his birthday cake. Not a helpless baby, though not yet an independent big boy, your toddler will grow by leaps and bounds this calendar year as he reaches his 3-year-old milestones.

As your little one develops cognitively, by age 3 he should be encouraged to "think about and try to solve simple problems that come up during the day," says Dr. Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., a pediatric clinical psychologist at Horizons Developmental Resource Center. Age 3 to 4 will bring big changes for your child physically as well, and the skills that he is mastering will keep him playing sports and leading a healthy lifestyle for years to come. According to Dr. Anne Zachry, Ph.D., OTR, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of "Retro Baby," "Children naturally gain muscular strength through active play, like in sports." It's also a great way for him to interact with other children and make friends, which will be important as he learns social interaction and cooperative play.

The American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that you have these 3-year-old milestones to look forward to this year:

And read  our guide to developmental milestones for kids

Physical Milestones: Gross Motor Skills

  • Catches a ball bounced to him.
  • Climbs up and down stairs independently.
  • Kicks ball forward.
  • Moves in all directions easily.
  • Stands or hops on one foot for up to five seconds.
  • Throws a ball overhand.

Physical Milestones: Fine Motor Skills

  • Copies some capital letters.
  • Copies square shapes.
  • Cuts with scissors.
  • Draws circles and squares.
  • Draws a person with two to four body parts.

    Read more about physical milestones for 3 year olds.

Language Milestones

  • Comprehends the ideas of "same" and "different."
  • Correctly uses basic rules of grammar.
  • Pronounces words enough for strangers to understand.
  • Speaks in five- to six-word sentences.
  • Tells stories.

    Check out these language milestones for 3 year olds.

Cognitive Milestones

  • Approaches problems from a single point of view.
  • Correctly identifies some colors.
  • Follows three-part instructions.
  • Has some sense of time.
  • Knows what counting is and may name some numbers.
  • Participates in fantasy play.
  • Remembers parts of a story.

    Learn more about cognitive milestones for 3 year olds.

Social Milestones

  • Clothes and unclothes himself.
  • Fantasizes that many unfamiliar images may be "monsters."
  • Is increasingly creative in fantasy play (although he still has difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality).
  • Is increasingly independent.
  • Participates in new experiences.
  • Plays cooperatively with other children.
  • Pretends to be "Mom" or "Dad."
  • Problem-solves solutions to conflicts.
  • Views self as a whole person involving body, mind and feelings.

    For more social developments, check out these social milestones for 3 year olds.

Milestone Guidelines

To help keep your child's development on track, Zachry recommends involving him in movement activities, modeling consistent eye contact and limiting screen time. The AAP suggests you speak to your pediatrician if you notice any delays in your child meeting these milestones or if you have any concerns about your child's development. That said, children aren't all exactly the same, so these milestones are just guidelines for when you can expect to see certain skills. "They aren't set in stone, and children develop at their own pace across all areas of development," says Beurkens.

Looking for some fun activities for your 3 year old? Check out these 40 Activities for Toddlers.

Victoria Georgoff is a freelance writer and psychotherapist who enjoys writing about parenting, helping other parents, and of course, being a parent herself.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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