Information on Children Ages

18 months to 36 months (3 years)



How are children learning about feelings and relationships?


How children think about and manage

  • themselves,
  • their feelings and behavior, and
  • their relationships

is what we call social-emotional development.

The development of these skills is as important in children’s success in school as are other skills, such as language and literacy and mathematics.

During the first five years of age, children are learning how to

  • manage their own behavior,
  • recognize, express and manage their feelings,
  • notice and respond in caring ways to the feelings of others,
  • interact with friends,
  • be a member of a group, and
  • develop close relationships with adults, including parents, other family members, and teachers.

Children learn these social-emotional skills in close relationships with adults through back-and-forth communication, shared experiences and nurturing guidance. Play is also central to helping children learn these skills. Through play, children practice their social skills, explore feelings, try on new behaviors and get feedback from others. Play allows children to learn more about themselves and others and develop their communication and interaction skills.

Social-Emotional Development


What are my children learning about themselves and their feelings?

Your three-year-old child has developed a strong sense of himself and can often tell you what he wants and how he feels. He can tell you about who is in his family and who his friends are. He can clearly express his likes and dislikes. His circle of preferred people may include family, friends, teachers and neighbors.

She likes the feeling of being able to do new things. She likes to “do things herself,” even if they are difficult and she gets frustrated. She might insist on putting on her own shoe, even though it takes her 10 minutes and ends up backward.

When playing with friends, he can sometimes include other people’s ideas in the play and share the toy, but is still likely to use the word “mine” regularly. He generally enjoys time with friends and may request to get together with them.

She has words to express several of her emotions (“happy,” “sad,” “mad,” “scared”) and can ask for comfort when needed. Her feelings may still be overwhelming to her and can result in tantrums. She may also experience fears at this age, such as fear of bees, dogs, or monsters. She practices feelings and may “pretend to cry” when her play involves something sad.  She may also look at herself in the mirror when she is practicing feelings so she can see what feelings look like.

He can show awareness of the feelings of others and may offer comfort by hugging or bringing his friend his favorite toy. He is sometimes able to empathize with others, but is more likely to be empathetic when he isn’t having big feelings himself.

She will often use her play to practice real-life events that she has experienced, like going to the doctor or the grocery store. This play helps her understand the event and gives her a sense of understanding and predictability about her life.

What are they learning about other people and relationships?

Your 36-month-old has developed some skills in playing with other children. Sometimes she will play alongside another child, using the same kinds of toys, but each playing their own game. Other times she will interact, talking and playing with others. She likes “pretend” play and can pretend that she is the dog or baby and can give simple instructions to his friends: “Now you go to sleep, baby.” She will imitate friends as well as adults in order to learn new behaviors and skills. She can sometimes include another child’s ideas in the play and share a toy, but is still likely to use the word “mine” regularly. She generally enjoys time with friends and may request to get together with them.

He can participate in simple clean-up routines, especially if an adult is working along with him.

If he has had experience with being in childcare, he is usually fine with being dropped off. Some children may still cry for a few minutes when parents leave, but will soon become engaged in play.

Here are some tips to support your child learning about themselves as a person, learning about other people and learning about their feelings:

Learning about self as a person:

  • Encourage her to do as much for herself as she wants to. Young children love to participate, learn new skills and feel like they are helping.Taking time with routines so your child can do some of the things by herself lets her know you think she is capable and gives her practice with new skills.
    • She might dress and undress herself, serve and feed herself, pour her own water from a little pitcher to her cup, help to wash the vegetables, help to set the table, put her toys away or help wash the windows.
  • When he says “no,” or won’t do what you want him to, remember that he is practicing being his own person.  Even when you need to stop him or set a limit with him, you can let him know you understand that he has a good idea.
    • “I’m going to stop you from climbing on the bookshelf.” (physical limit)
    • “Can you get down yourself or shall I help you down?” (closed-ended choice)
    • “Are you interested in climbing or are you trying to get a book?” (identifying his good idea)
    • “The bookshelf isn’t stable and could fall if you climb on it.” (giving him information)
    • “If you want to climb, let’s try the climber outside. If you want a book, I can help you get it down.” (offering choices and another way to express his idea)

Learning about own feelings:

  • Help her to understand her feelings by offering names for them.
    • “It looks like you are feeling sad.”
    • “It can be frustrating when you try to put on your shoe and it gets stuck.”
    • “I can see how excited you are to go to the park.”
  • Help him to know what makes feelings happen.
    • “You fell down. I wonder if you are hurt and a little scared.”
    • “When you say good-bye to your mama, sometimes you feel sad.”
    • “You look so happy when you are playing with your brother.”
  • Ask her about feelings.
    • “How are you feeling now?”
    • “Look at the boy in the book. How do you think he is feeling?”
  • Help her find safe ways to express his feelings.
    • “If you are mad you can tell your friend, ‘I’m mad.’”
    • “If you are mad and want to hit something, you can hit this cushion.”
  • You can use books about feelings or photos showing feelings to name and talk about children’s feelings.
  • Have a mirror at your child’s level. He might be interested in looking at his face when he is having a certain feeling, or practicing making different feeling expressions.
  • When your child is fearful, stay close and offer comfort. Sometimes your child doesn’t want to be taken away from the scary situation, but wants you to be there to help. If she is afraid of the neighbor’s friendly dog, you can squat down next to her, hold her and talk about the dog. Often, your presence and some information and safe interaction will help her feel less afraid. If she wants to move away, take your cues from her. Sometimes taking a photo of the scary thing and letting your child hold and talk about the photo will help him with her fear.
  • Let him know that all his feelings are healthy and that you will listen to or acknowledge his feelings.Acknowledging your child’s feelings allows him to trust you with his feelings and not feel like he has to hide them from you.

Learning about other people:

  • Take time in new situations to help your child adjust to new people. If a family friend will be watching him when you go out, invite her over the day before or a couple of hours before you go out to visit and play with him. The more familiar he is with the new person, the more comfortable he will be with you leaving.
  • When your child starts childcare, make sure she has time to get to know the new caregiver and setting.
    • Visit a few times and stay with her, so that she can check in with you while she is exploring the new setting.
    • Get to know the new caregiver yourself so you are confident in leaving your child with them.
    • Practice leaving your child for shorter periods at first, so that she learns that you will come back.
  • Provide opportunities for him to play with other children (at the park, with neighbors or family, in childcare or parent/child classes).
    • Remember that while he may be excited about other children, he doesn’t always know how to play with them, and there may be conflict over toys or hesitance to join the play.
    • Sharing can be hard at this age. Playing in neutral areas like parks, the beach or yards can cut down on some of the conflict about toys. Sand and water play with a few scoops and containers can offer fun play opportunities with friends.
    • Supervise him at this age when he is playing with other children. He may need help expressing his ideas and feelings, listening to the ideas of others, and working out solutions.



How are children learning language?


Children are born ready to communicate and to learn language. Listening to the language of their families, children soon start to distinguish familiar sounds and to build a vocabulary of words they understand, even before they can speak. Children’s ability to understand language is called “receptive language.”

At first, young babies communicate through making sounds, e.g., crying, and through making gestures. As they approach toddlerhood, they begin to use a few familiar words and, by 4 and 5 years old, they have large vocabularies and follow the rules of grammar when they communicate using language. Children’s ability to use language to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings is called “expressive language.”

As children are learning about spoken language, they are also learning about written language–through books, signs, and notes. Before learning to read words, children learn that print represents words and before writing, they learn to make marks and draw pictures. By the time they turn 5 they understand that letters make words and that words can make stories that they will learn to read. Many 5 year olds can also read and write their own name.

Language Development & Literacy


How does my child learn language?

  • In the third year of life, most children are able to communicate their needs clearly through language using simple sentences and clearer pronunciation. They are learning vocabulary very fast and quickly use new words they hear you say. They can use language to talk about what has happened in the past and what they would like to do. With their clearer speech they have conversations with their friends and with people outside of their family.
  • Conversations might sound like this:
    • Child: I like to go to the park. Remember we saw a dog at the park?
    • Parent: Yes, that dog followed you around and licked your hand.
    • Child: It tickled my hand. Can we go back to the park to see the dog?
  • Many of the things that you already do with your child help him or her learn to speak. Family members naturally talk about what is happening right now with children. This helps children to associate words with the things and experiences they are having.

Bilingual Language Development

How do children in bilingual or non-English-speaking families learn language?

  • Young children are very skilled at learning language and have the ability to learn two or more languages even before they begin school.
  • Families who speak a language other than English at home can use their home language as their primary language with children. Learning their home language helps children feel connected to their family and culture. They can learn English at the same time if the family is bilingual or they can learn English when they begin childcare or school.
  • Families support language learning by talking, reading and singing to their children in their home language. In this way children learn many language skills that will help them when they begin learning English.
  • Check with your local library for books in your home language.
  • Children who have this opportunity to become bilingual at an early age will benefit from the use of both languages throughout their lives.

Receptive Language

What is my child understanding?

“Receptive language” refers to all the words that children hear and understand. Children understand more words than they can speak.

  • Listening to what you say to them helps them learn new words and build their vocabularies.
  • Children listen to words that are spoken directly to them as well as to conversations that are happening around them.
  • They also pay attention to the tone of language and understand the meaning of tone as well as words. For instance, they can notice when your tone is excited, loving, frustrated, or scared and are learning to use tone in their own conversations.
  • Young children can understand 2-step requests: “Can you get a blanket to put on the baby?” “Please put your bowl in the dishwasher and get a wipe for your face.”
  • Many of the things that you already do with your child help him or her learn to speak. Family members naturally talk with children about what is happening right now, what happened in the past and things that will happen soon. This helps children to associate words with the things and experiences they are having.

Expressive Language

Communication: Talking and reading

“Expressive language” includes all the sounds and words that a child makes.

  • Young children have many words to communicate their feelings, needs and ideas and can be understood by friends and other people outside their families.
  • They have begun to learn the rules of speech, but still make some mistakes. For example: “He goed to the store.” “There are two mans in the car.”
  • Young children engage in short conversations and can talk about the past and the future.
  • Young children use language in their play to share their ideas: “Baby go night-night.” “Here, daddy, I made cookies for dinner.”
  • Young children are interested in books. They enjoy spending time reading a book with you or sitting by themselves turning the pages and telling parts of the story from their memory. They might also pretend to read the book to their dolls or stuffed animals.
  • They watch you when you read, turn the pages, point to pictures, name things in the book and can sometimes tell you what is going to happen next.
  • Young children like to sing and often know parts of songs that they sing while they are playing.

Here are some tips to support your child’s language development and interest in reading:

  • Talk to your child about what you are doing and going to do.Your child is more able to learn language when it is connected to something she is experiencing.
    • “I’m going to put these books away on the shelf. Can you hand those to me?”
    • “I’m going to get my shoes to put on. Can you find yours?”
    • “I made a salad for our lunch. I cut up cucumbers and tomatoes to put in it.”
  • When your child shows interest in something, offer words to describe what they are interested in. Your child is more interested in words that describe their interests.
    • “You are looking at that garbage truck. Can you see the part that picks up the garbage cans?”
    • “You just looked up at the sky. Did you hear the airplane flying by? The sound is getting softer. The plane must be far away now . . .”
    • “Every time we read this book, you go straight to the page with the caterpillar on it. That must be your favorite page. What do you like about the caterpillar?”
  • Talk about what your child is doing. This is like “show and tell.” At the same time your child is experiencing something, they are learning words to talk about it.
    • “You pushed the truck all the way up the hill and let it go. It went down the hill all by itself!”
    • “You are using the side of the crayon on the paper. Look how big the mark is.”
  • Talk about what you are doing. This is like “show and tell.” At the same time your child is seeing something, they are learning words to talk about it.
    • “I’m sending an email to Grammy to let her know we will pick her up at the bus station.”
    • “I’m putting extra clothes in your backpack in case you need to change at school.”
    • “I’m giving you 5 kisses. Let’s count them.”
  • Use many descriptive words. This is a way that they build vocabulary.
    • “Your favorite blanket is green and blue and fuzzy and covered with stars.”
    • “There are so many vegetables on your rice. They are nutritious. They will help you grow strong and be healthy.”
  • Talk about the near future. This gives children a chance to make a mental picture about what is going to happen before it happens.
    • “Soon it will be time to put on your shoes, coat and hat so we can catch our bus.”
    • “After this program is over, we will get our wagon so we can go to the store and get food for dinner.”
    • “Tomorrow morning, we are going to wake up early to make cupcakes for your sister’s birthday.”
  • Talk about the recent past. This offers children a chance to develop a mental picture—a memory of what has happened.
    • “When Nana was here, she read you your favorite book and taught you a new song. Do you remember it?”
    • “When I said good-bye to you at school this morning you cried a little and then your teacher told me you played with the play dough.”
    • “You went to play at your friend Tori’s house last week. She is coming to our house to play this afternoon.”
  • Have books available for your child. Providing books for your child teaches that you value books and reading.
      Trips to the library provide a fun outing and give you a large collection of books to share with your child.
  • Read books to your child.Early reading experiences help children learn that books hold stories, words, and information for them.
    • Take your time reading books. Often children have questions or ideas they want to talk about during the story.
    • Ask your child questions about the story. “What do you think is going to happen next? What part of the story did you like the best?”
    • You can also show your child where the title is and tell them the name of the person who wrote the book.
    • This early experience with books can start a lifetime love of reading for our children.
  • Talk about pictures and books with your child. Learning that pictures represent things is the first step to learning that letters can also represent things.
    • “I see stars in the sky. What do you see?”
    • “What do you notice in this picture?” (When your child points, you can name what they are pointing to, if they don’t.)
  • Share photos with your child and talk about them too.
    • “Here is a photo of your abuelita and your tia.”
    • “This is a photo of when you were a baby! You are so much bigger now.”
  • You can make simple books for your child using photos of people and things they love. These books help them see that books can represent things that they knows about.
    • You can glue photos on paper, write words for your story, and staple, tie or tape the pages together.
    • Stories don’t have to be long. They can just be a few pages. “Dhruv likes to build with blocks. He starts with a few blocks stacked. Soon he has a tall tower. Sometimes it falls down and he starts to build it again.”



How are children learning about numbers?


Young children explore and begin to practice the skills needed for mathematics long before they enter elementary school. During the first years of life, children learn to count, recognize shapes and patterns, compare sizes and amounts, and recognize similarities and differences. Children develop these skills through their self-initiated exploration and play with materials and through simple interactions with adults. Everyday interactions such as adults counting fingers and toes, offering two pieces of banana, and arranging blue and white socks in different piles contribute to children’s growing math skills. Children begin to communicate about amounts of things by using words such as “more” and “bigger.”

As they grow older they learn to count a few numbers. They also build their understanding of quantity through activities such as putting plates and cups on a table. They become aware of how adults use counting in everyday life and learn about how to use numbers by imitating adults. Throughout the early years, most children are naturally interested in numbers. Fun activities that involve numbers strengthen children’s natural interest and encourage them to learn more about math concepts.

Number Sense


What are young children learning about numbers?

Young children begin to practice the skills needed for arithmetic and math long before they enter elementary school. Most of these skills are developed through their self-initiated play with materials and through simple interactions with adults.

  • Young children begin to learn counting skills through everyday interactions such as putting plates on the table, counting their fingers to tell you how old they are, or counting the number of crackers on the plate.
  • Children between 19 and 36 months are beginning to count things. They usually learn how to say “1-2-3-4-5” (sometimes putting the numbers in different order) before they know that each number represents something. They may count their pieces of broccoli up to 3 or 4, but they might count the same piece twice or miss a piece. They are still learning the sequence of numbers and might miss a number, for example, “1-2-4.”
  • They can hold up two fingers to show you how old they are and they can hand you two tissues when you ask them to.
  • They are beginning to use the terms “a little bit” and “a lot.” When you ask if they want a little yogurt or a lot, they can choose.
  • They may also use their fingers for counting.

Tips for families to help children in understanding numbers:

Many of the things that families do naturally with children help them to develop their math and number skills. There are many opportunities in our everyday lives where adults are counting things and children are practicing numbers in their play.
Here are some suggestions of things families can do:



How are children becoming skillful at moving their bodies?


  • Physical development and physical activity play an important role in health throughout a child’s life span. In particular, being physically active protects against heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It also contributes to mental health, happiness and psychological well-being.
  • Physical movement skills are a basis for other types of learning and allow opportunities for children to engage with others, to explore, to learn, and to play.
  • Physical activity prepares children for activities in later life, including fitness activities, organized sports, and recreation.
  • Infants, toddlers and preschool children are developmentally ready and very motivated to learn new movement skills. The preschool period is an opportune time for young children to learn fundamental movement skills. If children do not learn those skills during the preschool period, they may have difficulty learning them later, and their ability to participate in physical activities may be affected for the long term.
  • During the preschool years, children develop important movement skills. Those skills build on the physical development that happened for children in infancy and toddlerhood.
  • We now know how much children learn through physical activity outdoors in the natural world. It is important for adults to help children have opportunities for this kind of play, as many children spend a majority of their time in front of a television or computer screen instead of engaged in physical activity.
  • The more experience children have with physical activities, the more confidence they develop and the more willing they are to try new things and develop new skills. Children who spend a lot of time in front of the television or the computer may be less willing to try new physical challenges and may miss the chance to develop important physical skills.
  • Research highlights the benefits of experiencing nature for children and shows that children prefer spending time in natural settings. Further, we also know that access to green, outdoor spaces improves children’s thinking skills and their well-being and relationships.

Physical Development


Physical development for infants and toddlers includes learning skills such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, and running. Through these abilities, children are able to see and interact with their surroundings in different ways. Children’s physical development is related to their growth in all other areas. When a child pulls up to a standing position she can see the top of the table, and new opportunities for exploration of the magazines and cups on the table open up. When an infant begins to push a stroller, she learns about new ideas like motion. When she pushes the stroller over to another friend, who puts a baby in the stroller, she expands her social skills, as well.

By the time they are 36 months of age, children have accomplished many physical tasks, including running, climbing, jumping, throwing, kicking, turning, carrying and pedaling. They are doing all of these tasks with some skill and coordination and can combine some; for instance, they can run while carrying something, they can climb and jump, and they can dance, moving arms, legs and their whole bodies.

In the months leading up to 36 months you may see a toddler:

  • Jump off the bottom step.
  • Jump forward a few inches.
  • Kick a ball.
  • Catch a ball using two arms.
  • Walk up or down stairs by stepping with both feet on each step, without holding on.
  • Walk on tiptoes.
  • Ride on a ride-on toy without pedals.

Some of the things you might see a 36-month-old do include:

  • Walk and run, going faster and slower and making turns.
  • Throw and kick a ball (without much skill).
  • Pedal a tricycle.
  • Climb up on climbing structures and ladders.
  • Walk up stairs, putting a foot on each step, without holding the railing.
  • Walk backward.
  • Jump up with both feet.
  • Catch a ball.

Tips for families to support toddler physical development:

  • Toddlers need lots of opportunities to move, to run, to climb, to jump and to throw. They enjoy carrying heavy things and building with blocks and other natural materials.
  • Toddlers love to push things, including boxes, small strollers and carts.
  • Toddlers love to build and stack things (and knock them down). They will do this with almost anything they can find—cans and boxes from the cupboard, sticks and leaves from outside, small scraps of wood from the lumber store, or sets of building blocks.When toddlers make things fall and stack and try to make things stay up, they are learning about gravity.
  • Toddlers also love to climb, and some will climb on anything they can find (chairs, tables, shelves, couches, benches). Decide what is safe for your child to climb on and remind them to climb on those things when they start climbing on other things.Climbing gives children a chance to develop strength, balance and coordination.
    • You can also use mattresses, cushions and low platforms for children to practice their climbing up and down.
    • Outdoor playgrounds provide opportunities for climbing for young children, as do natural areas with logs, boulders and hills. You and your child can explore your neighborhood for appropriate climbing places.
    • Children will sometimes fall when they are climbing, and most of the time they catch themselves and only get small scratches. These simple falls are also how they learn. They often want to go back to the same spot to try climbing again and will do it successfully because of what they learned the previous time.
    • When your child begins to climb, it is important that you look around the area to see if it is a safe environment.
  • Toddlers enjoy trying out their new skills outside, as well as inside. Even short walks outside give children a chance to try out new surfaces for walking, running and jumping, and to watch the birds and experience what the community has to offer.
  • Children at this age also enjoy throwing. You can provide a variety of soft balls that they can throw and can even make small, soft balls out of socks or yarn.
  • Children also enjoy carrying things, such as small baskets or purses with handles that they can use to fill and carry—recycled water bottles, or other things they find. They love dumping as much as they love filling, so they may turn the container over as soon as they get it filled. They are fascinated with how objects move and how things change. When all the objects are in the basket they look one way. When the objects are dumped out on the floor, they spread out. Children ask themselves: “Will they change their arrangement again if I put them back in the basket?”
  • Children also like to stretch their muscles by carrying or moving heavy things. A sealed bottle or box of laundry detergent would be fun for them to move. They enjoy carrying small stools around so they can reach a book off the shelf. They can help bring in small bags of groceries or push the laundry basket to the table for folding.



What skills help children learn?


Young children develop many skills that help them learn and solve problems. These skills include the ability to pay attention, even when there are distractions, to observe, to ask questions, to gather information and to explore different ways to solve problems. These skills are called approaches to learning.

Young children learn to use math concepts such as number, shape, and size when solving problems. They use all of their senses to gather information, notice differences and similarities, and often make comparisons. They carefully observe people and things and form hypotheses and make predictions based on their observations. They also do simple experiments and evaluate the outcomes of their experiments.

Young children are naturally curious. Adults can encourage children’s curiosity and initiative by asking children open-ended questions, being responsive to their questions, and providing a wide variety of materials for them to explore. Such support strengthens children’s growing confidence as learners and willingness to keep trying to solve challenging problems.

Approaches to Learning


What skills do infants and toddlers use to solve problems?

One important problem-solving skill that infants and toddlers develop is the ability to pay attention to things they find interesting, even when there are distractions. For example, young infants can make eye contact with their family members even while there is music playing. Older toddlers can continue to stack a few blocks even when someone nearby is folding the laundry. This ability to concentrate on something helps them observe, gather information, build on their learning experiences and find solutions to problems.

  • Children can sometimes pay attention to more than one thing at a time.
  • They can notice that they put the book away with the stuffed animals and return to put it in the proper place.
  • Children can search for and find a favorite book and ask a family member to read it for them.
  • They can look through a basket of stuffed animals while telling you that they are trying to find the little kitty.

In the months leading up to 36 months:

  • Children can play with toys for several minutes before moving on to another activity.
  • They can sit with family members to read a book together.

Tips for families in helping children focus their attention: