Cognitive Milestones: What Should Your Three Year Old Be Doing?

Yes, it's true that each child develops at his own pace but there are still certain milestones that are considered "typical" and that's a good thing. Part of our responsibility as parents is to look out for our kids and to help them grow and thrive. Milestones help both parents and professionals know when something may be of concern. The list below consists of cognitive milestones that children will typically meet between the ages of 2 and 3. 

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Builds with 4 or more blocks. 

Toddlers love to build towers. By age three, your child should be able to build one with at least 4 blocks

Can do a 4 piece puzzle. 

Your little one should also be able to do a puzzle with 4 pieces

Completes sentences in familiar books and rhymes. 

If you recite rhymes with your child or read the same books over (and over!) between the age of 2 and 3 your child will likely begin to complete the rhymes or sentences in the book. 

Expresses an interest in turning lights on and off.

This is sometimes frustrating but it's a great milestone for your toddler to be turning lights off and on. 

Finds things that are hidden. 

In this year of your child's life, she will begin to look for items that aren't in plain sight. You can help exercise this skill by hiding a toy, like a puzzle piece, when playing with your child. 

Follows two-step instructions. 

"Go to your room and bring me your shoes". 

Groups objects. 

This is different than color or shape sorting. An example of grouping objects would be putting all toy animals together regardless of color or species. 

Has an understanding of cause and effect. 

By age three, your little one should start to realize that if you flip the switch the lights will turn on or similar cause and effect situations. 

Identifies himself in the mirror. 

Your toddler will now recognize that he is the person in the mirror. 

Knows the difference between one and two. 

Between two and three years old, children will know the difference between having one object and having two objects. A great way to work on this is with identifying body parts and asking "how many" there are - you have one nose; you have two hands. 

Names items in a picture book. 

Your child should be able to go through a picture book and name the objects in the book. These first 100 board books are perfect for that

Learning to count. 

How high a 2-3-year-old can count may vary greatly. Counting is really memorization and some children may take to memorizing other things first. The important thing is that your child is learning to count. 

Plays simple make-believe games. 

As your child gets older, make-believe will become more elaborate but in the year of age two and three, little ones should be playing simple make-believe games such as talking on the phone, eating pretend food, etc. 

Pretends with a sequence of events. 

Example: Baby doll "cries", child feeds the baby and then changes the baby's diaper. 

Sings the ABC's. 

At three years old, your child can sing the ABC's. 

Sorts colors and shapes. 

By age three, your little one will be able to sort objects according to color and shape. 

Stacks rings in size order. 

We often see this ring toy for babies but this is the stage where your child should be able to sort the rings in size order on her own. 

Tells others what she is doing. 

They may leave out some words or use the tense incorrectly but your toddlers at this age should be able to communicate in words what it is that they are doing. "I play trains". "I"m building a tower". 

Understands simple stories. 

By age three, your child will show that he is understanding simple stories. Perhaps an object will remind him of a story he's read and he will begin to recall or act out the story. 

Understands the relationship between objects. 

At this age, your little one will know that hammer goes with the nails and other object relationships. 

Remember, all children develop at different paces and this list is simply a marker for what is "typical" at this age. If your child is not meeting all of these markers, this does not necessarily mean you need to be alarmed but there are some red flags that you should bring up to your doctor.

If you notice any of the following in your child by age three, consult a doctor: 

Unable to do one activity for even a small period of time.

Disinterested in pretend play. 

Cannot categorize objects. 

Doesn't understand the function of common objects. 

Not interested in playing with toys and just looks at or feels them instead.