Three-year-old children have developed their own identity and have begun to be aware of other people in their surroundings with some sense of empathy. They are not consistently empathetic, but can be encouraged to be socially aware of the needs and feelings of other people. They should be confident, secure, and self-possessed in the familiar surroundings at home and at school. They will be less secure and confident in new places and around new people.

Although much of what children this age learn will still involve manipulatives and physical involvement with toys and materials, they are beginning to learn more through listening and looking as well. There should be an ever increasing length of concentration and focus on a single activity and a longer period of inert concentration. Longer books can be read aloud and longer meal times can be enjoyed. The children’s language skills are honed with precision so that they should answer questions and converse with teachers and other children in complete sentences. Their speech should be comprehensible to people outside the family. They should be able to follow multi-stepped directions.

Three-year-olds can often recognize their own names in print and perhaps even be able to ‘read’ the class schedule. They should recognize and be able to name a wide variety of geometric shapes.

Their learning traits have begun to show some flexibility in solving problems as well as perseverance in problem solving. There should be determined perseverance and focus, as well as the application of knowledge to new contexts. Generalization and making connections between isolated bits of information should be evident. They accommodate to classroom rules and routines and treat the classroom and the materials with respect. They can work to solve problems with adult support and can ask for support when they need it. They can sit at a table for snack and help with routine tasks, including clean-up at the end of the day. They are able to make transitions from one type of activity to another.

An increase in symbolic thinking will be evident as children can begin to imagine things. Imagination can only spring from some reality-based knowledge that has been accruing for three years. Now fantasy construction and active pretending can take place. When counting to 10 there should be one-to-one correspondence representing an understanding of quantity, not merely rote counting. Three-year-olds appreciate symmetry. They can repeat and memorize rhythms and rhymes.

Three to four-year-olds should have no separation issues in a familiar setting. They should feel nurtured and respected at home and at school. They still model behavior, but also take great pride in being role models for other children.

Their gross motor skills allow them to learn how to gallop, march, throw and catch a large ball, walk up and down stairs unassisted, paint and color. They should be increasingly independent in the bathroom and with personal hygiene issues. Their fine motor control is being further developed as they play with clay and play-dough, cut paper, paint with brushes, and begin drawing. They should be able to regulate themselves and their behavior at the table when eating.