As your child approaches preschool age, she’s more active and curious than ever. Here’s how you can introduce her to new experiences and help her improve her skills.
Play sorting games. Sorting different types of toys or blocks of various shapes and colors encourages your child to notice similarities and differences and teaches basic logic skills. If she seems ready for an additional challenge, have her sort the items by color first and then by shape. To raise the bar even higher, ask her to sort all the square yellow blocks, the red circles, and so on. But keep it fun and don't expect your child to do it perfectly.
Puzzle it out. Provide your child with jigsaw puzzles of up to five large pieces and encourage her as she tries to place them.
Tell her why. Your child may seem endlessly curious at this age as she tries to understand how things work and why they are the way they are. Your answers to her questions can be simple: “Why do I have to go to bed?” “Because your body needs sleep in order to grow and stay healthy.” But when her questions are more difficult—“How do fish breathe?” “Why do people die?”—don’t worry about having the right answer. It’s OK to say that you don’t know or that you’ll have to think about it and get back to her; you might even suggest doing some research together.
Limit electronics. That includes TV, computers, and other devices. Though they’re engaging and fun, the majority of your child’s play should be far more active, involving face-to-face interactions with real people and tactile experiences with toys and her surroundings.
Hop to it! Balance is a budding skill at this age. See who can stand on one foot longer or hop farther.
Play simple ball games. Provide your child with a variety of kid-friendly balls. She’ll enjoy practicing her throwing, kicking, and catching skills at this age.
Remain calm. Try not to show fear, alarm, or excessive fussing over tumbles and scrapes. They’re an important and inevitable part of building coordination and spatial awareness, and learning to make better judgments.
Provide blocks and building toys. At this stage, your child’s improved hand-eye coordination allows her to place objects with impressive precision. Practice will fine-tune her skills even more.
Work on art projects. Especially fun for your child are projects that involve craft tools, like paper collages using child-safe scissors, clay sculpture using molds (and her hands!), and painting with fat-handled brushes.
Use descriptors when you talk. Say, for example, “That woman is a cashier. Grown-ups have lots of different jobs.” Your child learns that “woman,” “cashier,” and “grown-up” are all different words that describe the same person.
Ask questions that don’t require a simple yes or no. For instance, ask, “What do you want to wear today?” rather than, “Do you want to wear this shirt?”
Attend story hours. Libraries and bookstores offer wonderful opportunities for your child to hear others read aloud. Even wriggly 3-year-olds may be entertained if there are props, puppets, or characters featured at the reading. You can also pick out books to read together before or after the event.
Tell stories. Make up your own stories featuring your child as the main character in a great adventure, with nightly installments at bedtime. You can even ask her to participate in the storytelling: “What do you think happens next?”
Use words. Encourage your child to use her words to express her feelings. This phrase is a simple way to remind her not to lash out by yelling or hitting.
Play a role. Take part in any fantasy play your child loves, whether it involves princesses, pirates, or superheroes. Through this kind of play, 3-year-olds work out surprisingly sophisticated social issues and relationships.
Indulge imaginary playmates. At this age, imaginary playmates indicate creativity and emotional health, not a sign that your child lacks real friends or strong social skills.
Address aggression. If your child hits or throws things in anger, hold her firmly yet calmly, so she can regain control of her emotions. Let her know that what she’s doing isn’t acceptable. When she’s calm, you can talk about other ways she might vent anger and frustration, such as pounding a pillow, running around the yard, and expressing feelings with words.
Show affection. Give lots of hugs to your child to help foster her sense of security.
“Parenting Guide to Your Toddler” by Paula Spencer, Ballantine Books 2000.
“Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 (5th Ed)” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.