Three is a very big age for developing children! Now walking, talking, and likely potty-trained, the world begins to really take shape in a three-year-old’s mind. As toddlers begin to reach more developmental milestones, it is important their playtime is filled with enriching activities, not just fun.
A 3-year-old’s playtime should be filled with activities that not only keep them occupied but also involve their minds and encourage their developing skills. Take time to set the foundation for their involvement in the home as well as the world now while their curiosity is at an all-time high.
Of course, many activities may depend on the time of year, where you live, and what your child enjoys doing. Still, there are endless possibilities when it comes to making memories with your child. Playtime doesn’t just have to be a distraction— it can be fun and educational, too!
Important Developmental Milestones to be Aware Of
As mentioned before, three is an age full of big developmental milestones. Whereas before your child was merely focused on learning to walk, speak, and perhaps use the toilet, now they are developing the ability to understand and interact with the world around them. Important emotional, social, problem-solving, and sensorimotor skills now take the forefront in their young minds. Your playtime with them should encourage these!
Between the ages of 3 and 4, children should begin to use their own names when speaking of themselves, learn basic numbers and counting, and begin to use larger sentences. Their ability to concentrate on one task will also increase. They are beginning to share and taking an interest in other children now; encourage this, and teach them appropriate manners for playing with and speaking to friends.
At this age, a child’s creativity is also at its peak. As they begin to take an interest in other children, show them how to interact with their new friends kindly; communication is key! Storytelling or playacting is another important skill for them to have at this age, so read with them, have them tell stories to you based on pictures, and makeup stories together. Some toddlers will become especially good mimics around this age. Encourage their imagination and participation within the household! Small, supervised chores can be added in now, and even made into games.
Emotional and cognitive development are rampant at this age. As your curious kiddo asks the famous 3-year-old mantra “why,” take the time to clearly explain things to them. Be clear and honest in your explanations of the world around them. Be calm and understanding when they get upset, to help them feel safe in life and explore their emotions.
Activities that encourage mental exercise as well as fun and imagination.
Visit the Local Library
The local library is a great resource for any parent. Many libraries have weekly reading times you can attend for free. It’s never too early to encourage a love of learning in kids. Let your child pick out a few books that look interesting to them and check them out each week. Increased exposure to stories can improve their speech patterns and vocabulary, and is a good way to encourage any child’s imagination.
Solve a Puzzle
Puzzles are great ways to occupy a toddler’s time. Not only do they help improve their problem-solving and recall skills, focusing on a puzzle can improve a child’s overall ability to focus. The ideal puzzle size for kids at this age is around 30 pieces. There are lots of small puzzles built specifically for little ones to piece together that can handle a little more rough play.
Build a Cardboard Castle
This is a great activity for families with extra boxes around. Draw a design for the castle with your 3-year-old, and then have them help put it together using small or large boxes. You may need to cut some of the boxes to make the finished product, so let them know that while they can’t handle the knife or scissors, they are welcome to piece it all together.
Build a Blanket Fort
This is a classic indoor activity for kids and grownups alike. Gather your comfiest blankets and pillows and help them construct their fort. If you really want to get fancy with it, you can string up some hanging lights around the top to make interesting shadows. Once the plush hideout is finished, use it for a reading spot, coloring, playing with toys, or an exotic nap location.
This is a classic activity for a reason. Coloring encourages imagination and creativity, while also keeping kiddos engaged in one task. Use washable markers, pencils, crayons, watercolors, or finger paints (if you’re feeling brave and clear in cleaning rules) to make stories, picture journals, or art to put on the fridge!
Made-up Story Time
There are a ton of ways to carry out this particular activity. One popular fashion is to have your 3-year-old draw pictures with you and then make a story out of them. You can also each draw pictures on your own and then guess what the other person’s drawing is about. Not only does this encourage imagination and the creation of fridge-worthy art, but it is also a good way to develop a child’s ability to understand images and string them together to create linear stories. Gather some paper and crayons and let your imaginations run wild!
Play with Legos or Blocks
Improve motor skills and balance by building towers and other things with your child. Large numbered blocks and kid-friendly Legos are good mediums for this activity. Having them recreate or mimic towers that you build can also be good practice for mechanical comprehension and following instructions.
Activities to get your child moving.
Have a Dance Party
Dancing is a great way to spend time together, get some simple exercise in, and even pass on traditions. Pick out some bouncy music with your child and let them show their moves off! You can also practice simple tasks like standing on tip-toes, learning the names of body parts (toes, knees, hips, etc.), or spinning in a circle.
Go on An At-Home Adventure
Ask your toddler to recreate one of their favorite stories or movies, and go on an at-home adventure. Play can range all over the house depending on the particular tale and the characters they assign to you. Fun activities like this are not only fun for your child, it helps them to feel close to you as you participate in their make-believe.
Secret Yoga is just a fun way to describe kid-friendly stretches. Reach to touch your toes together, inch along the ground like caterpillars, or roll your shoulders like monkeys. Frequent stretching is a good way to stay fit together and help your child to stay comfortable as they grow. You can also include simple yoga poses if you like.
Play Simon Says
Another classic kids game, choose easy actions for your toddler to follow or let them lead the game. Not only is it fun to try and catch each other at breaking the rules, but it is also good practice at following simple instructions and rules.
Play Hide and Seek
This game is best done in a controlled space— you don’t want your child to wander off if they’re too good at hiding. Hide and Seek is a good way to help with counting practice and is fun to do together.
Fun things to get up to in the great outdoors.
Explore the Backyard
There is a lot to observe anywhere outside. You and your toddler can have fun right at home just by exploring where you live. Do a scavenger hunt for birds or colors, or play a round of I-Spy!
You can also let your 3-year-old lead the activity. Go for a short walk together, and let them imagine an adventure. Allow their imaginations to turn your regular settings into something more magical.
Draw With Sidewalk Chalk
Making sidewalk art with chalk is another great creative activity but is much easier to clean up after than some indoor options. Where markers or paint can stain clothes or furniture, chalk will wash right out! On a sunny day, take your toddler outside and enjoy the sunshine while they create their colorful masterpiece.
If the weather is nice, you can even break out the sprinklers and cool off between powdery masterpieces. The hose can also be used to clean up the sidewalk after the coloring is finished. Though these drawings may not be so permanent as paper, snap a picture of the proud artist and their work once they’re finished to look back on later.
Visit the Playground
Visiting the playground is another great outdoor activity. In a 3-year-old’s eyes, a jungle gym can be a ship, a slide can be a secret entrance, and a swing can be their own personal flying machine. Most cities have a public park you can visit whenever, though they may be more popular in seasons with milder weather.
Playgrounds don’t just have to be enjoyed in the sunshine, rainy weather brings a whole other level of entertainment! Kids have a delightful wonder at many simple things, and puddles can be a special delight. Throw on a pair of rain boots and splash around with them!
Collect Plants for Pressing
Depending on the time of year, gather pretty flowers and interesting leaves together outside for collecting and pressing into books. The dried leaves and petals can later be made into a scrapbook, decorations, or just neat keepsakes. This activity encourages a kid’s curiosity and respect for nature and is blessedly easy. Name the plants you collect and look up the names of ones you don’t know. Just remember to avoid things like poison ivy— that is one plant you don’t need to bother pressing to remember picking it forever.
Go for an Animal Walk
This can be at the park, a zoo, or even in your own yard. Point out animals to one another and list their names. Imitate the sound each one makes and have them copy you. It is a good opportunity to learn animal names and make connections between animals from stories they are familiar with.
It can be amusing to imitate the animal’s walks as well. Take turns to see who can hop like a frog better, who can run like a bear more, or who can peck like a bird the closest.
Activities to teach your child life skills in a fun way.
Play Fashion Designer
Have your 3-year-old help plan their outfits for the week. Not only does it help them to develop their sense of style, it gives them more autonomy within their lives and prepares them for dressing entirely on their own.
Give Their Toys a Bath
Kids’ toys can get very dirty, so this not only helps kids feel “big and grownup,” it encourages hygiene and taking good care of their possessions. Fill a sink with water and have them give their toys a bath, then dry them off and help your child put them away again.
Write a Letter to Loved Ones
Make and write a letter to a loved one and walk it to the mailbox. They can draw a picture, dictate what they want the letter to say, or practice writing on their own. This is a good bonding and learning activity and makes for a very cute keepsake for the family member intended as the recipient. Grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors, or even residents of the local retirement home all make for great letter and drawing recipients.
Help in the Kitchen
Three is a good age to get kids interested in cooking. Have them help with simple tasks like washing fruit, making kebabs, or cracking eggs. Teaching opportunities abound— why is it important to wash your hands? What makes food taste good?
Help them be more involved in the household, get them interested in nutrition, and prepare them to be better cooks in the future by including them now. You also may have more success in getting them to try new foods if they feel responsible for making them.