Your 3-Year-Old


Yes, your child is actually learning math! Not because he’s counting on her fingers (though he may do that too), but because his everyday interactions and games are giving her a stronger concept of sizes, numbers, quantities, shapes, and relationships.

Since infancy, he’s known what “more” and “all done” meant. Now he’s starting to understand more nuanced ideas—and he has the communication skills to talk about them with you. When he says, “Your feet are the bigger, and mine are smaller,” what he’s really telling you is that he’s compared them both to each other—and that he can measure. When he says, “red, then orange, then yellow,” he’s telling you he put things in sequence and order. These basic skills will lay the foundation for his future learning in math.

How can you help him develop further? Keep things fun. Activities like sorting toys by color, shape, and size, or adding and removing blocks from a stack, are a good place to start. Tell stories and sing songs that have repetition and numbers in them. And when you go outside, take opportunities to observe, note similarities and differences, and talk about size. You’ll see he notices a great deal.

Family Field Trip: Grocery

I Can Count to Fifteen.

Counting is a big deal to your child—from “your car has 1, 2, 3, 4 doors” to “Let’s count my bears.” In some cases, he doesn’t even need to count out loud—he can recognize that there are three chairs around a table. He’s also learning to read his numbers, and the difference between first and last. Does it sound like he’s smart? Yes—and you’ll be a smarter parent for encouraging him. Count backwards from 5 with him, ask him to arrange ten stones…once you start incorporating numbers into your play, you’ll be surprised how often easily they work themselves into everyday activities.

Look for signs of learning at your child's care.

You should see your child playing counting games, such as counting chairs at lunchtime, or counting classmates when they line up to go outdoors (as well as noting who’s first and last in line). He should also begin pointing out numbers in counting books and wall calendars.

I Can Make a Pattern.

Do you remember when you began adding and subtracting? Probably not—because the process began when you were the same age your child is now.  She likely doesn’t understand about adding and subtracting yet, but she is learning that numbers can be added to and subtracted from, and that this changes them into new numbers. And she’s learned to repeat a pattern of objects or pictures, figuring out their order, and continuing it herself.

Look for signs of learning at your child's care.

You should see your child creating patterns with paper cutouts or blocks of different colors, shapes, and sizes, or even blocks with numbers on them. Her teacher should also be reading them books like "One Hundred Angry Ants or Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons" that weave addition and subtraction into the storyline.

I Can Tell Which Things Go Together.

Before, you may have watched your child put away his toys, feeling grateful that the room looked cleaner. But now, you’ll see he can arrange his toys in more interesting ways. Watch him arranging markers in rainbow order, sorting stuffed animals and cars by size, and showing you which shirts he wore when he was “little” and which when he was “big.” He’s able to see not only differences and similarities, but also hierarchies and sets.

Look for signs of learning at your child's care.

You should see your child’s teachers asking him and his friends to arrange items by size, shape, color, and weight. Markers might be put in rainbow order, blocks laid out with the biggest on the bottom and smallest on top, and balls divided between hard plastic and soft rubber.

I Can Make it Match.

While you may not remember learning geometry before grade school, your child is already beginning to understand spatial relationships and how they work. If you present her with an unfinished series of patterns or shapes, she can tell you which ones come next to complete the series. She can name her shapes—circles, rectangles, even an octagon—and count their sides. And she understands which of these shapes are similar to each other, such as ovals and circles with their curves, or squares and rectangles that have four sides each.

Look for signs of learning at your child's care.

You should see your child being asked to identify shapes in a room, such as squares (like windows), circles (like doorknobs), and rectangles (like tables). You should also see the kids putting together puzzles, and playing with shape toys like blocks and balls of different sizes.

I Can Tell Which One is Bigger.

In the past, your child didn’t have much of a concept of time. Now, he’s learning how to measure it in terms of tasks and activities. For example, he knows that before dinner, he washes his hands, and after dinner, he takes his empty plate into the kitchen. He’s also learning to measure physical items using comparisons, and can tell you which of two similar objects is larger, rounder, or brighter in color than the other.

Look for signs of learning at your child's care.

You should hear your kid’s teacher talking about time with the class, and even asking them to notice the clock. His teacher may say things like, “In five minutes, we’ll pull out our cots and nap,” or “When the big hand is on six, we’ll line up for outdoor play.” The kids should also be using basic scales to compare heavier and lighter objects.

All children learn and grow at their own pace and in their own way. For more information about the skills and milestones for your child's age check out our developmental milestones resource page. If you continue to have concerns or questions please give us a call at 1-800-299-1627.