3 Years

Discover tips, tools, and support for this age

While you spend time with your child, you’re helping their memory grow! See this in action as they begin to memorize people, events, and movements. Your toddler may also learn how to dress and undress on their own, copy words and actions, and walk up and down stairs (with supervision). 

Learn more about your toddler’s development, explore 3-K and Pre-K, and find free events for kids and families in NYC. 

Brain Building

Learn through life's everyday moments

During a diaper change, tell your child a silly story about the tallest little child in the world. While you are at it, stretch their arms over their head as you stretch out your words in a playful tone. (The taaaaaaallest baaaaaby in the wooooooorld!)

See what your child is learning

Your voice is your child's favorite sound. Even if they can't talk back yet, they're listening to your words. Stretching out your words and using a sing-song voice makes it fun. This also helps their brain connect sounds and the ways we use our mouths to make them. You may not see it, but inside their brain they are practicing talking with you.


Skills children develop as they play, learn, speak, act, and move are called milestones. Learn about milestones to help you understand your child's development and act early if you have concerns.

Around 3 years old, many children:

  • Social

    • Copy adults and friends
    • Show affection for friends without being asked to
    • Take turns in games
    • Show concern for a crying friend
    • Understand ideas of "mine" and "his," or "hers"
    • Show a wide range of emotions
    • Separate easily from mom and dad
    • Can dress and undress own their own
  • Communication

    • Follow instructions with 2 or 3 steps
    • Name most familiar things
    • Understand words like "in," "on," and "under"
    • Say first name, age, and gender
    • Say words like "me," "we," and "you" and some plurals, like dogs and cats
    • Talk well enough for strangers to understand
    • Carry on a conversation using 2 or 3 sentences
  • Learning

    • Work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
    • Play make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
    • Do puzzles with 3 or 4 pieces
    • Copy a circle with pencil or crayon
    • Turn book pages one at a time
    • Build towers of more than 6 blocks
  • Physical Development

    • Climb well, run easily, and pedal a tricycle
    • Walk up and down stairs
    • Screw and unscrew jar lids and turn door handle
  • Health

    • Have 3 ounces of grains daily (such as 1 cup of breakfast cereal plus 1 cup of rice)
    • Have 1 cup of vegetables daily (such as 2 medium carrots OR 1 large tomato)
    • Have 2 cups of fruit daily (such as 1 small apple plus 1 banana)
    • Have 2 ounces of meat and beans daily (such as 2 slices of turkey OR a ½ cup of lentils)
    • Have 2 cups of milk daily
    • Have at least 30 minutes of adult-led physical activity
    • Have 1 hour of free play
    • Are not inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, unless sleeping
    • Sleep about 10–13 hours per day
    • Stay on schedule with shots

Act early by talking to a doctor, teacher, or social worker if your child:

  • Act Early

    • Drools or has unclear speech
    • Doesn't speak in sentences
    • Doesn't understand simple instructions
    • Can't work simple toys, such as peg boards or simple puzzles
    • Doesn't play pretend or make-believe
    • Doesn't want to play with other children or toys
    • Doesn't make eye contact


Find the support your family needs to thrive

Head start for 3 & 4 year olds

EarlyLearn NYC Head Start

NYC Department of Education

Eight hours a day of free early care and education for three and four year olds

Early education for three-year-olds

3-K for All (3-K)

NYC Department of Education

3-K for All is free, full-day, high-quality education for New York City three-year-olds, starting in select School Districts.

Free Pre-K for four-year-olds

Pre-K for All (Pre-K)

NYC Department of Education

Enroll your child in a free, full-day, high-quality Pre-K program.