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About 3 Years of Age: Overview

It is important to remember that no matter how old a child is, all areas of development are intertwined, and progress depends on nurturing every facet of development – social, intellectual, language, emotional, gross motor and fine motor. Each child develops at his own pace within a distinct period of time. Every child is unique and requires different care.

As children enter the preschool years, they have more self-esteem and confidence, and are generally optimistic and cheerful. They like to please, enjoy doing things to help their parents and caregivers, and readily show affection. Children at this age show greater impulse control, and have fewer tantrums and aggressive behaviours than before. This is largely due to their growth in language which helps them to explain their feelings and desires. Preschoolers are also beginning to understand other people's feelings, and see that there are different points of view. This is an age where most children have lots of fears, and whether or not they make sense, parents and caregivers need to be understanding and comforting.

Three-year olds speak in three- to six-word sentences. They communicate thoughts and feelings, have ideas, talk about what they have done, ask questions and develop social relationships. Their vocabulary grows to about 900 words, and they can be understood most of the time by everyone. Children at this age can usually say their full name and part of an address. When watched in their play, it is clear that they use and understand abstract words like "up," "down," and "later." Words that describe size, such as "big" and "small," are used correctly, and the number concept two (and maybe three) is understood, as demonstrated by a child when you say "give me just two." Time intervals like "today," "tomorrow," "yesterday," and "it's time to ..." are also better understood.

Children are more sociable now and capable of some play with other children, although they still find it hard to share. They need help learning social skills, such as taking turns, trading toys and asking for what they want. Preschoolers understand and follow simple, reasonable rules and have a better understanding of what "no" means. A child at this age can take on small responsibilities, like putting away his toys.

Children's growth slows down in the preschool years compared to the earlier years, and many parents and caregivers notice that their eating habits change about now. Most preschoolers have completed toilet training, although it is not uncommon for accidents and nighttime wetting to occur in many children beyond this age. Physically, children can control movements better as they balance along a straight line, alternate feet when going upstairs, walk backwards and on tiptoes, climb on equipment, jump down from a step, momentarily stand on one foot, throw a small ball, bounce a big ball, learn to ride a tricycle, run with skill and chase bubbles.

The type of activities that preschoolers enjoy has greatly expanded beyond that of a two-year-old, as the fine movements of their hands steadily improve. Being creative with scissors, crayons, glue, playdoh, paints and paper is a favourite way to spend time. Lots of messy play with water, sand, clay, mud and fingerpaint are high on their list of what pleases them. Transportation toys and animal and human figures expand the building activities they enjoy. A preschooler's skill at completing larger puzzles is enhanced by her ability to sort objects by colour and size, and count to five. Pretend play becomes richer, and a full array of "props" becomes essential to children's play.

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Your Child's First Five Years