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NYS Parent Guide

36-48 Months: Growth and Development

You and Your Thriving Three-Year-Old

Child Development

Child Development

Welcome to the “preschool years,” the time between age three and when your little one enters school. That may seem like a long way off but time will fly. And much will change, one discovery at a time.

Your preschooler’s brain is very active. You can see it as he asks questions, explores and tries to make sense out of all he has learned so far. He can think in new ways about people, objects, events and ideas (called mental images) and can remember for longer periods of time.

Sometime, during the next twelve months, here are some of the new things you will likely see your three-year-old do:

  • Play for short periods with another child or children and begin to develop friendships
  • Begin to identify as a boy or girl and may show preference for gender related play… (i.e., trucks or dolls)
  • Become interested in simple, structured games like board games but often wants to make up and change the “rules” to his liking
  • Spend much of his time in pretend activity and may even have an imaginary friend or two
  • Show you he wants to please you some of the time
  • Seem, at least at times, to be less dependent on you
  • Resist your requests—and resort back to temper tantrums if he is not getting what he wants
  • Follow two to three step directions Use many new words in everyday experiences…an “exploding” vocabulary
  • Use four or more words in a sentence
  • Use plurals correctly; use descriptive words; ask many questions; continue to make language mistakes but with practice those mistakes self-correct
  • Has a conversation of two or more exchanges with another person
  • Listen to books and stories and become more “engaged” in the content
  • “Read” a favorite book to you by looking at and “reading” pictures
  • Join in singing or saying short familiar rhymes
  • Show interest in scribbling, copying simple shapes, painting, molding dough or clay, “building” and taking things apart
  • Experiment and explore continuously… with people, objects, ideas and actions
  • Use “self-talk” while exploring. (i.e., “What happens…if I pour this bag of sugar into the dump truck.”)
  • Has a new persistence in asking “why, where and what ” questions for understanding
  • Focuses for longer periods of time on activities of interest
  • Show intense interest in specific kinds of play to the exclusion of other play (only wants to play trains for a month straight, no matter what else is offered or available)
  • Match and sort like things, like colors, cars, shapes
  • Complete a 6-8 piece puzzle
  • Understand and follows simple rules and safety practices but still needs adult giving cues
  • “Take turns” more easily; showing some ability to wait and to share
  • Show concern if another child is upset, hurt or angry
  • Separate from parent without becoming upset
  • Become attached to significant adults, in addition to parents
  • Begin to recognize and express feelings and emotions (i.e., I’m sad)
  • Climb, jump, run, throw and catch with increasing skill
  • Dress and undress himself, only needing help with zippers, buttons and tying Like physical activity. Is on the move!
  • Complete toilet learning
  • Use objects for purposes not intended (i.e., banana becomes a phone)
  • Show awareness of daily routine (i.e., after bath, goes to brush teeth without being told)
  • Show interest in and awareness of his environment, noticing signs, buildings, streets, stores, etc
additional resources My E-Journal

Did you know

If you have a concern about your child’s development, your local school district has a Committee on Preschool Special Education which can coordinate services for your child through preschool special education. Visit for more information.