Little one’s development from 2 to 3 years old

Little one is starting to understand more about life and themselves at this time. They are learning to think things through and may want to try everything as they are figuring out how things work.

Taking the lead through play helps little one practise making decisions.

Little one may also be easier to understand as they start putting words together into short sentences.

As parents/carers talk and respond, little one learns to tell stories about what happened during the day.

Little one may have stronger emotions and less separation anxiety. Little one still needs parents/carers around to feel reassured and safe when exploring.

Language (talking and listening)

Between 2 and 3, your little one could:

  • listen to stories
  • understand longer sentences and what they are being told to do
  • put two or three words together
  • use describing and doing words
  • ask ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions
  • talk during pretend play
  • say ‘mine’
  • watch and try to join yarns.

To support them, we can:

  • say what little one is doing
  • talk about what you see then ask little one to say what else they see, for example what someone is wearing in a photo
  • repeat and add words to what little one says so they hear full sentences
  • play give-and-take games so little one can ask and answer questions e.g. take turns finding items of clothing when they get dressed.

Learn more about their language development at this age.

Social-emotional (behaviour and emotions)

Little one could:

  • play with others and take their point of view
  • feel angry, guilty and proud
  • joke around
  • not want to share toys
  • be more in control of themselves around peers
  • be aware of their own and others’ feelings
  • stop being upset when near known adults
  • make choices
  • show concern and care for others
  • point to body parts of self and others.

We can:

  • use songs in play and routines
  • stay close when little one plays with others, so they feel secure
  • say how little one is feeling
  • help little one notice how others are feeling
  • let little one play in front of the mirror so they see what their body is doing
  • help little one see their place and role in the family e.g. look at family photos and ask little one to tell you about them.

Learn more about their social-emotional development at this age.

Cognitive (thinking and making connections)

Little one could:

  • pay attention longer
  • use objects to solve problems
  • know what they want to do and can work out ways to do it
  • start to count
  • follow directions
  • use objects in pretend play
  • act things out e.g. cooking, caring for baby
  • start to understand concept of time e.g. ‘now’ and ‘later’
  • like routines and rituals
  • point to and sort like objects e.g. hard, soft, big, small

We can:

  • join in with pretend play e.g. act like you are eating food little one serves you
  • help little one solve problems e.g. put things in the wrong place and ask them to fix it
  • ask questions so little one explores cause and effect e.g. ‘What will happen when you drop the ball?’
  • match words about time to things that are part of little one’s day e.g. ‘We will go outside later,’ ‘after lunch,’ ‘before bedtime’
  • ask little one what comes next in a routine e.g. which bit of clothing to put on.

Learn more about their cognitive development at this age.

Physical (growth and health)

Little one could:

  • walk, run, climb, kick and jump
  • stop while running
  • climb stairs one at a time
  • scribble shapes and lines e.g. with a pencil or stick in the sand
  • turn pages of a book
  • start using thumb and forefinger to hold things
  • get dressed with some help.

We can:

  • praise little one up for learning to do things, so they keep trying e.g. ‘Deadly, you climbed to the top!’
  • play stop and start games outside
  • put food colour into water for little one to pour, so they can easily see how water moves
  • find ways for little one to carry, dump and fill things e.g. have lots of buckets, baskets and boxes for little one to fill and empty
  • help little one be independent by putting out safe cutlery and finger foods.

Learn more about their physical development at this age.

Published — 25 June 2019 Last updated — 25 June 2019

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