What Should a 3 Year Old Child Know Academically?

What Should a 3 Year Old Child Know Academically?

Many parents feel that the 3-year-old stage of their baby is ‘just about there’ to start with learning alphabets, words and objects. Although it’s a good time to start training them for preschool now, the foundation for their learning can be laid down before they reach three.

Your three-year-old is capable of some incredible academic feats! From recognising colours and shapes to counting and identifying letters, these tiny learners are already making strides that will set them up for a lifetime of success. As parents and caregivers, we all want to give our children the tools they need to thrive in school and beyond, which means starting early.  So what are the milestones to look for at age 3, and what can you do when they seem delayed? Let’s check them all one by one.

Educational Milestones for a 3-Year-Old Child

Getting into pre-schools means having a good set of cognitive skills in children, and the foundation for it is laid down during their younger years. Many parents wonder what a 3-year-old should know from the education point of view, and here are the 3 important things they need to be aware of:

1. Reading Skill

Children’s reading ability doesn’t need to develop only when they start school. Even as infants, they build the skills to help them read soon enough. The time between 3 to 5 years is a critical phase for children to learn to start reading. By 3, although they won’t be able to read full sentences, they will begin to show signs of readiness. You will notice that they can recognise some commonly used letters or even learn simple three-letter words.

By the age of 3, most preschoolers will know the names of their favourite books. They can hold a book properly and turn pages, recall phrases and frequently used words from their favourite books and even pretend to read books. They can also differentiate between a random squiggle, an alphabet or a number. Some preschoolers can also recognise or write numbers and letters, identify letters that begin with certain words or make up silly phrases.

Parenting Tip

The best way to instil an interest in reading is to read to your child daily regardless of how much they understand. Reading opens the window to the realm of literacy that your child would soon enter while also building a bond with you during the time you spend reading to them. Reading doesn’t have to begin and end with books; labels on cereal boxes and words on toys will do as well. You will notice them reaching their milestones from words to forming their first sentences. You will also see them recognising printed words on signs, streets, common store signs, etc.

A text-rich environment is key to laying the groundwork for reading success. Along with books, you can also talk about words, letters or numbers on packages, signs, clothing, etc. Make a game of guessing letters and numbers when out on the streets or in supermarkets. Flashcards are also good toys to introduce at this point to help learn alphabets and pictures.

2. Vocabulary

You can expect a growth spurt in your child’s language skills between the ages of 2 and 3. At the beginning of this period, most kids can say 50 or more words and follow simple instructions. They can combine two or three words to form a sentence, such as ‘mommy get in the car’ or ‘Me go too’. Kids can also understand one-step instructions such as ‘put sock on foot’ or two-step instructions such as ‘pick up the ball and bring it to mommy’.

By the age of 3, kids’ vocabulary can contain as much as 200-300 words, and you will begin to hear longer sentences that are more structured and grammatical. For example, instead of saying ‘I go’, your child might say ‘I’m going’. You can also expect to hear past tense such as ‘walked’ or ‘jumped’. They can understand better and speak more clearly; you will be able to understand at least 75% of what your child says.

As they mature beyond age 3, they should be able to use language freely, solve problems, and learn new concepts. They can engage in a simple question-answer session or tell stories. A good example is a story about their visit to the supermarket. They may be able to put together a simple story and say something similar to ‘I go shop’. When you respond with ‘And what did you do at the shop?’, they would reply ‘Buy candies’. They should also be able to tell simple made-up stories, although they would leave out many details. Children’s vocabulary when they start kindergarten is an important predictor of academic success throughout their school. Therefore it is important to build their vocabulary, language and communication skills.

Parenting Tip

To start with, introduce them to new words during their day-to-day activities. At the grocery store, you can explain that bread comes from a bakery and show them a bakery on the way home. Children are often obsessed with things, whether cars, birds or stray cats. The next time your child is chatting about their obsession, throw a few words they have never heard before into the discussion.

3. Identifying Different Objects

3-year-old children can identify many objects and their various uses at this point in their development. As their cognitive skills expand, they learn with much vigour and stuff themselves with as much new information as possible. Objects that they encounter regularly are often of the greatest interest. It could be your car and the sound it makes when you honk, the bouncing of balls, kitchen appliances and the rumbling of the grinder. They can associate that the function of a vacuum is to suck up dust and bits of paper that they throw in its way.

Even before they can identify individual objects, they pay attention to the colours and shapes of objects. As shapes and colours are the most noticeable attributes of the world around us, children pick these up faster than anything else. Therefore, children need to know the basics of colours and shapes before they can read, write or do math. For example, when children learn to discern the differences or similarities between shapes and colours, they use the skills to understand the differences between letters and numbers. Therefore, when children are asked to sort objects, they often use the most noticeable attributes, such as colour, shape and size, to categorise objects.

Girl playing with Building Blocks

Parenting Tip

To help them develop their ability to discern colours and objects, offer them paint swatches of different shapes to explore. Let them sort the shapes based on colours as an activity, or give them glue sticks to make monochromatic collages of different colours. Shapes can be introduced in fun ways, such as giving them square, triangle or circularly shaped cookies to eat. Play with shape sorting games or use household objects in sorting games.

As they grow older, they start developing an interest in science and math as many available games revolve around exploration and sorting/counting mathematically. Along with learning the numerals, they would love counting how many toys they have or how many crackers they can eat.

4. Recognizing and Naming Basic Shapes

Most children can recognise and name basic shapes like circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles by age three. This skill is an essential foundation for understanding geometry and spatial reasoning. Recognising and naming basic shapes is an important foundation for future math skills. It helps children to develop cognitive reasoning, which is the ability to understand how objects relate to each other in space. 

Parenting Tip

To help your child achieve this milestone, you can use everyday objects to point out shapes and ask your child to name them. For example, you can ask your child to identify the circle on a plate, the square on a book, or the triangle on a road sign. You can also play shape sorting games or draw pictures together using different shapes.

5. Counting to 10 and Understanding Quantity

Another important milestone for three-year-olds is being able to count to 10 and understand the concept of quantity. This means they can recognise that “10” is a larger number than “3” and that counting objects helps them track how many there are. This skill also helps children develop a sense of numbers and prepares them for more advanced math concepts. 

Parenting Tip

To help your child practice counting and understanding quantity, you can count objects together and ask your child to point to the correct number. For example, you can count the number of toys in a box or crackers on a plate. You can also use simple math concepts like addition and subtraction by adding or taking away objects to help your child understand the meaning of numbers.

6. Following 2-3 Step Instructions

As children grow, so does their ability to follow instructions. By age three, most children can follow two or three-step instructions such as “Put your shoes on, grab your backpack, and let’s go to the car.” This skill is important for success in school and other social situations. You can help your child practice by giving simple exercises during playtime and gradually increasing the complexity. 

Parenting Tip

To help your child practice following instructions, you can give them simple tasks and gradually increase the complexity. For example, you can ask your child to get their shoes, put them on, and come to the door. You can also play games like “Simon Says” or “Red Light, Green Light” to make following instructions more fun.


1. How Much Screen Time Is Recommended for a 3-Year-Old Child?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have no more than one hour of screen time per day. This includes television, computer, tablet, and smartphone screens. However, it’s important to note that young children learn best through real-life experiences and interactions, so screen time should be limited to other activities, like reading, playing, and exploring the world around them.

2. What Should a 3-Year-Old Child Draw?

Three-year-old children are still developing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, so their drawings may not be very precise. However, they can draw simple shapes, lines, and scribbles. You can encourage your child to draw by providing them with age-appropriate art materials like crayons, markers, and paper. You can also suggest simple drawing prompts like “Draw a tree” or “Draw a smiley face.” Drawing is a great way for children to express their creativity and develop hand-eye coordination.

3. How High Can 3 Year Old Count the Numbers?

Most 3-year-olds can count up to 10 or 20, although some may be able to count higher. However, children are still developing their understanding of numbers and quantity at this age. They may not yet grasp counting beyond what they can see or touch. To help your child develop their counting skills, you can count objects together and practice pointing to each object as you say the corresponding number. You can also use simple math concepts like addition and subtraction by adding or taking away objects to help your child understand the meaning of numbers.

Most children reach the expected milestones on time or faster when supplemented with everyday activities and games designed to help them learn.


1. Dev, EE; Age of Entry to Kindergarten and Children’s Academic Achievement and Socioemotional Development; PubMed; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2140009/; December 2007

2. Important Things a 3 Year Old Should Know; Smaller Scholars Montessori Academy; https://smallerscholarshouston.com/things-a-3-year-old-should-know/

3. Typical Language Accomplishments for Children, Birth to Age 6 — Helping Your Child Become a Reader; US Department of Education; https://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/reader/part9.html

4. Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years; CDC; https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-3yr.html

5. Preschooler development; Medline Plus; https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002013.htm

6. Development Milestones for Your 3-Year-Old Child; CHOC; https://www.choc.org/primary-care/ages-stages/3-years/

7. Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years; CDC; https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-3yr.html

Also Read:

Fun Ways To Teach Your Kid To Write His Name
How to Teach The Use of First Person to Preschool Kids?
Interesting Number Identification Activities for Preschoolers

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