What a Three Year Old Can Learn



I really liked having goals for my two-year-old and myself last year.  So, I figured I’d try and do it every year.  Then as I wrote this article and titled it “Plans and Goals,” I realized that there are goals for me, but most of what I called “goals” are really just what I see her learning.  I’ve always had a hard time explaining why I really didn’t care if I met the goals.  I mean, why make goals if you don’t want to meet them, right?  So, I’m changing my terminology as part of my attempt to grasp this natural learning process.  So what follows are goals for me and just a summary of some of the things she has or will have learned this year.

This year’s general goals for me are a little less structured and cover a week rather than a day.  I’m trying to be realistic about what I’ll be able to accomplish with a new baby around.

 Each Week

  1. Go somewhere at least once, hopefully more than once.
  2. Read at least a couple books each day
  3. Be outside for at least 2 hours each day (because I read this book)
  4. No more than 2 hours total of screen time each day (watching my own screentime use when I’m around her, as well.)
  5. One planned week a month to do planned activities (at least)

I have added one personal goal as a parent (and former teacher) — work on making sure I don’t control too much of her learning.  As a classroom teacher, I’m in complete control of what everyone is doing, and it’s all geared toward a learning objective.  And it has to be.  There are 35 kids in that room and anything less than that would lead to chaos.  But, with natural learning, learning is happening all the time.  The learning that occurs is not based on some timetable or idea I have, it’s what she’s doing in her brain.  I need to keep that in mind and make sure I’m not leading her in a direction she doesn’t want to or need to go.   I’m constantly surprised by what she knows, so I know it works.  I just need to make sure I get better and better at just providing opportunities for her to continue to surprise me.

The following list are things that she seems to have started learning, since I have no idea what happens this year, I’ll be adding as I go along. I’m keeping our planned activities and themes simple this year due to the new baby.  (See posts for them here.)

I’m going to reiterate something from my post last year, because I think seeing a list like this does make one want to start checking things off and make sure it all gets done.

I don’t think it’s necessary to push any skill or specific knowledge.  She’ll learn, because she wants to or when it’s necessary for her to do so, not because I push it on her.  I think that is something that rings true for every person, regardless of age. So, her interests lead the way.  Any activity I post was done or not done according to her time table.  I offered an activity, and sometimes she was all ready to go (and may have even wanted more), other times she finished half and wanted to do the rest later, and other times she didn’t want to do it at all.  All of those scenarios were fine with me.

In talking with a person online about this, they were very against the idea of planning anything, I realized that for some people natural learning isn’t planned at all.  For me, I see it as an extension of her interests.  I think all people do this.  If you have a child who likes animals, you’d plan a visit to the zoo.  If you have a child who likes trains, you’d buy them some.  If your child likes to color, you provide crayons and paper.  I feel that what I do is the same thing.  She’s interested in doing planned activities…even the worksheets.  So I plan activities based on themes that I think she’ll enjoy, and we do them (or we don’t).

As I did when she was two, I will update them as we go, adding some that I didn’t have down and giving a timeline for where she is with them, just for those who like to see a time frame.  Of course, her time frame of things will be different than every other kid, since they are all so (annoyingly…wonderfully) unpredictable. 😉  If you know of any others that I should be looking for or encouraging at this age, please let me know.  Click here to go to themes for this year.

 Life Skills

  1. Be able to put her clothes on herself (she can do this, except for zippers and snaps, but often asks me still help. I’d like her to do it on her own more often. At 3 1/2 she does it more often by herself. At three months shy of 4, I can’t remember the last time I helped dress her.)
  2. Brush her own hair, well. (at 3 1/2, she can do a decent looking job, but doesn’t quite get underneath yet.  At 4, she’s better, but still not quite there.)
  3. Be able to go to the bathroom by herself (figured out how to wipe by 3 and 3 months, went through a month of wanting us to do, but at 3 1/2 goes by herself without even telling us…working on the reminder to wash her hands each time.  She regressed for about three months after the baby was born wanting us to wipe her. Not to provide tmi, but this is only for #1.  We still do #2 for her.)
  4. Give more opportunities for sweeping, wiping, laundry and dusting (by 3 was already a big fan of folding her clothes and towels, at 3 1/2 she also loves folding her clothes and matching socks…she helped a ton getting the house ready for Thanksgiving, dusting baseboards and things she found interesting–like our globes…she also liked having a water spray bottle and her own rag to wipe off window ledges…and she is into helping fill up the washing machine and hang up wet clothes to dry…not so interested in sweeping all that much. Getting her to use the dustbuster more and wipes for baseboards. At 4, she’s capable, but doesn’t do it all that much.)
  5. Get better at making her own snacks (When she was in her early 2’s, I used to give her a mixture of peanut butter and jam and let her make her own sandwich. But, she became disinterested…and usually she’d end up just eating the stuff in the bowl and having a sandwich without much on it that she didn’t want to eat. J But recently, around 3 and 4 months, she has started to ask to do it again. She mixes the two items herself and spreads it on, cuts it and eats it. By 4, she’s able to get her own easily eatable stuff (carrots, tomatoes, apples, cucumbers)
  6. Help more with cooking and baking (making sure she has more opportunities to cut, shred, peel, clean, pour, fill, etc.)
  7. Know left from right (at 3 1/2 gets it right when putting on shoes, but doesn’t really know it.  Three months shy of 4, she’s figured it out.  I told her that her right hand is the one she writes with, so now she figures it out herself.)
  8. Know some more safety rules (i.e. fire, earthquake, 911, etc.) (we did do some fire safety rules for F week, and we have had her practice calling her dad on my cell phone just in case there’s an emergency.)
  9. Baby stuff? (fold blankets? Keep him entertained? Change pee diaper?) (She has gotten very good at keeping him entertained.)
  10. Get better at controlling emotions (give her tools and words to do so) (We are talking a lot about this.  Some tools we’ve been trying to instill: breathing, talk [not yell or cry], take a break from something.  She’s getting better, but she hit 4 and must have started a new developmental phase, because she’s much more emotional and pushing boundaries.  It’s a good reminder for us on controlling our own emotions…I’m doing a lot of breathing too! 😉 )
  11. Play independently outside (at 3 1/2 she has actually gone outside a few times to play by herself, but was often looking for me inside as well. 🙂 At 4, she has started doing this with playdough on the table outside, but still not out just exploring and playing by herself.)

 Motor Skills

  1. Catch a ball better (at 3 1/2 she’s really good at this with the big ball)
  2. Know how to dribble a ball (like in soccer and basketball) (at 3 1/2 she can run across our yard kicking and running…not capable of the dribbling a ball with her hand by the time she turned 4.  But, we did get her a little hoop, so she’s been getting better at throwing.)
  3. Learn how to ride a bike (At 3 she started riding a bike with training wheels and sometimes using a balance bike.  At 3 1/2, she’s gotten very good at the balance bike and the training wheel bike, as soon as her feet touch the ground more with the training wheel bike, we’ll take the training wheels off.  We took the training wheels off, but she wasn’t ready, so we took the pedals off too. By 4, still just on balance bike.)
  4. Kick a ball more accurately (she can kick a ball pretty well…haven’t actually tried to see if she can do it to a specific spot.)
  5. Capable of doing pre-writing activities (drawing lines, zig zags, circles, etc.) (At 3 and 4 months, getting better, but not interested in drawing anything more intricate than a line if asked.  On her own she’ll do whatever.  By 4, she’s getting very good at this.  She likes tracing things and can draw shapes on her own.)
  6. Cut on lines, cut out things, staple things, tape things together (by 3 1/2 she’s good at these, but obviously more practice will make her better…she did great cutting out circles for the kid’s table turkey place mats. At 4, she does all of this.  At this point, she is always in a rush to finish though, so would probably look a bit better if she slowed down, but I don’t care about that right now.)
  7. Lego: She loves doing this with her dad.  By the end of the year, she was able to go through the simple book instructions and make things herself.

Intellectual Development

  1. Recognize letters (at 3 1/2, she recognizes all the uppercase letters but sometimes mixes up: B and D, I and T, V and Y, C and S…since we’ve only been up to D at this point in our letter of the week activities, I’m assuming this has come from games, books and shows…lowercase letters are harder I think, she mixes up u and n for a, p and q, b and d, s and c, v and y, and didn’t know j or l. By three months shy of 4 she can name all the letters, upper and lowercase.)
  2. Know all letter sounds ( at 3 1/2, knows a few: a, b, d, p, s, By three months shy of four, she knows quite a few a-j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, v, z…by 4, she has a problem with vowels only.  And thanks to a computer program called Reading Eggs – which was too much structure for her as it messed with her sleep, but she loved it – she learned to put sounds together to create words.)
  3. Know how to spell her name (at 3 1/2, she knows all the letters in her name, knows it starts with a capital A, but doesn’t put them in any particular order. By three months shy of four, she always writes it correctly.)
  4. Know her numbers 1-40 (She already says them to 29, and by 3 and 4 months, she definitely understands the concept of counting things and things having a number value.  At 3 1/2, she, with help, can go to 40, but still sometimes just counts a bunch of numbers regardless of what she’s counting. At 4, she does this well…especially when watering plants. 🙂 )
  5. Recognize numbers beyond 10. (at 3 1/2, I think she knows 11 and 12 because we look at her clock and say those numbers. At three months shy of 4, she’s starting to recognize the 11-19 numbers, but not much. At 4, she can put numbers 1-20 in order.)
  6. Read a clock (as in know to say short hand number first and long hand number second based on clock in her room, and know how to read the digital clock in the kitchen, at least read the numbers in order) (At 3ish, she can knows how to wait until the clock looks a certain way, as in, “Wait until the long hand gets to the 6″…and also can tell me the numbers on the oven, but not necessarily in order, it may say 5:34, and she’ll say 5, 4, 3.  At 3 1/2, it’s the same, but she has started adding lots of time to her imaginary play like, “It’s 3 o’clock, time to make dinner.” At 4, she’s learning about 1/2 hour (that’s how long her nap is), and that the hand going all the way around the clock is an hour (2 rest times. 🙂 )
  7. Know the days of the weeks (As of 3 and 3 months, knows them from an online preschool, Chalk Preschool. She only did it for a week and got bored [I think it’s a little too repetitive for her], but it worked for days of the week…But, not sure she really understands what they mean, she just has them memorized.  At 3 1/2, she’s still not sure what they are, but has started to correlate days to things that are done on that day, as in Wednesday is farmer’s market day. At 4, she knows them, but bc we don’t keep up on what day it is, it isn’t a real priority to remember what day it is.)
  8. Know how to use yesterday, today and tomorrow. (At 3 1/2, I think she’s just started getting yesterday…she’s used it correctly recently rather than just as a word for the past…haven’t heard her use today and tomorrow. At 4, I can’t think when I heard her say any of these.)
  9. Know the months (At 3 and 2 months, she learned the months in a row from the Chalk preschool.  She can repeat these, but I’m sure she doesn’t fully understand the concept of them yet. At 3 1/2, she still doesn’t really get them, but has started to make the connection that they’re related to time, as in the baby is coming in December. At 4, it’s the same, but now she’s aware of her birthday month and how every year she’ll get older.)
  10. Write letters (At 3 and 4 months, can write about half legibly if copying.  At 3 1/2 still the same, she’s good at copying over it. At three months shy of four, she is pretty good.  They’re big still and some are hard to read, but she’s definitely got an image of all of them in her mind.  Although some of the images are a little off.  Like she draws j’s backwards. 😉  At 4, she can write them all on her own without looking at anything, occasionally asking what one looks like.  They are hardly perfect though, and I don’t know what her reasoning behind things is, but they range between capital and lowercase. She also recognizes when she makes a mistake and either fixes it or says, “That’s just the way I do it.” 🙂 )
  11. Keep a journal (Started at around 3 and 2 months. It’s a regular notebook, and she draws pictures of things we have done or maybe a story she makes up. I write down what she tells me. When I remember, I suggest it as an activity. At 3 1/2, she still loves doing it. At 4, she also has a number journal and a poem journal.)
  12. Draw more realistic pictures of people (all parts). (At 3 and 4 months has head, eyes, body, feet, legs and belly button, all the time.  Occasionally remembers arms, hands and nose. At 4, they’re still pretty basic.)
  13. Adding and Subtracting (At 3 1/2, she likes doing this with her food, how many crackers are left if I eat one?! 🙂 At 4, she’s definitely doing this, but in a really natural way.)
  14. Reading (I didn’t expect her to start any kind of reading this year, because I wasn’t planning on attempting it. So, I figured if she naturally came to it, great, if not, great.  We started a reading program called Reading Eggs four months shy of turning 4.  She loved it!  Within a week she was reading.  I’m not joking.  A week!  She still loves it, but I’m not sure we’ll be subscribing after our free trial is over. I’m glad she’s reading and realizes the sounds make words, but I’m not sure she’s developmentally ready for a program this intense (even though it’s just games…they’re timed, she can’t move on until she gets it right, there are quizzes, etc.). It just seems a bit too structured and competitive for me–and we actually realized, after a little experimenting–that it affected her sleep.  She was crying in her sleep, waking up once or twice.  It was terrible.  I haven’t had the courage to try it again now that she turned 4.




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