nursery times:
your child at three years old

With endless curiosity and tons of energy, your three year old is learning about themselves and the world, and finding it all great fun. That means as the parent of a three year old, you're incredibly busy keeping them entertained and engaged, and helping them take those first independent steps into nursery or pre-school. Here are some of the milestones and developments you and your three year old might experience together.

development of a three year old child

learning independence

Three-year-olds love to be independent. It may take a frustratingly long time for them to fasten their coat, but going along with their desire to “do it myself” is great for their long-term development. On the whole, at three they can dress and undress themselves pretty well.

They learn a lot from copying others, and family mealtimes are a good opportunity to demonstrate good manners and social skills.

At three, children are developing so quickly that they need up to 14 hours sleep every day. Despite this, many three-year-olds drop the afternoon nap – a sad day for many parents!

it’s playtime!

Three is the age of playing. Your child has identified which other little ones they want as friends, and they will start to play co-operatively. They may even show some empathy towards their friends.

It’s fascinating watching their developing imaginations. They increasingly play make-believe, either with friends or toys. Your three-year-old may want to wear fancy dress for days on end. You can encourage their love of imaginative play and thought by reading plenty of stories together.

They can now manage simple jigsaw puzzles and enjoy building with wooden blocks or Duplo. Anything involving music goes down well – your budding musician will enjoy singing, dancing, making instruments, and (brace yourselves!) drumming. They are increasingly physical, and can run, jump, climb and possibly pedal a small bike. They tend to love outdoor play whatever the weather and splashing in puddles on a rainy day can keep them amused for ages.

the age of “why?”

At this age, your child wants to know everything – and you are expected to have all the answers! Time to brush up on why the sky is blue. Encourage their curiosity with visits to new places. Even a shopping trip can result in engaging conversations about all sorts of things.

Three-year-olds usually have a vocabulary of 800–1000 words, and their speech is clearer. This ability to communicate well may explain why they are feeling less frustrated. However, your three-year-old is also developing lots of firm likes and dislikes: disappointment can lead to meltdowns.

exploring a wider world

This is the age when many children start nursery or pre-school, as free childcare places begin the term after their third birthday. Most children, even quieter ones, thrive in this environment, as they are expertly introduced to new, age-appropriate activities.

It can be helpful to encourage friendships by arranging play dates with nursery friends – your little one will feel far happier spending the day at a place where they know the other children. If you’ve been going to a local playgroup, the chances are that your pre-schooler will already have a social circle!

It may feel a bit strange when your little one first starts to have a life outside the family environment, but it’s thanks to you that they have the confidence to enjoy this taste of independence.