As parents, we are often so focused on the developmental stages in the first year or so of our child’s life, that we often forget that even at 3 years old, they are still developing rapidly and working on achieving milestones. In fact, this is such a critical age for cognitive, social and physical growth that it will affect and shape your child’s personality for the rest of their lives!
So, what developmental stages can you look out for at 3 years old and beyond, and how can you encourage them?
It will be of no great surprise to you that your 3+ year old is pursuing more and more independence. In fact, this can often lead to some of our biggest struggles as parents, as we seek to increase our children’s freedom while keeping them safe.
Allowing your child the independence they crave, while maintaining boundaries is something that is easier than you may think. As our children grow, they naturally seek decision-making opportunities. These allow them to feel grown-up and in control of their own lives. You can give your child these opportunities in simple ways that will satisfy their urge to choose, while making sure behaviour boundaries are still in place. Why not try:
The trick with all of these is to limit the options and give an ‘either/or’ choice. For example: “Would you like to go to the park or to the swimming pool?” or “Which top would you like to wear? The blue or the red?” This means that you’re ultimately still in control of the outcome and your child feels independent without becoming overwhelmed by options.
At the age of 3, your child’s gross and fine motor skills – their control of both big and small bodily movements – will be rapidly developing. You may notice that your child can now jump with two feet, catch a large ball and move confidently in a variety of different ways such as running and skipping.
While gross motor (big movements) like these are often easier to spot, your child’s fine motor skills will be developing just as quickly. These might involve: holding a paintbrush or pencil with their fingers (rather than their whole hand), mastering zips or poppers when getting dressed or completing fiddly tasks using their fingers like peeling an orange or a banana.
Gross and fine motor development is so important as it helps children to become more coordinated and balanced, as well as setting the stage for better writing and letter formation as they get a little older. Here are some fun fine motor games you can implement at home:
Use a pair of children’s tweezers or even a tea bag strainer and task your child with picking up the pom poms and moving them from one container to another. You can also use this game to practise counting and colour recognition too!
This is a firm favourite in our house! A no-cutlery-needed meal that will encourage your child to use their finger skills to pick up, open and eat different foods. You could include: fruit that needs peeling, cereal or blueberries that are tricky to pick up, a packet of popped hoops or veggie buttons for them to open themselves, babybel cheese with the rind left on.
Draw a set of 3 lines on a piece of paper from one end to the other. Make one line straight, one squiggly and one zig zagged. Challenge your child to use a pair of scissors to cut from one end of the paper to the other, following the line as they go.
While playing with the playdough, ask your child if they can squeeze, press, roll, pinch and twist the playdough with their hands and fingers. These activities will build your child’s hand and finger strength and are the perfect precursor to writing practice!