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Child Development Tracker

Home » 3 to 4 »

Approaches to Learning

Supporting Activities


Play "library" at home, then visit the real library. What's Going on at the Library?


Help Caillou pick out the right outfit for the weather. What Should Caillou Wear Today?

Books for Your Child

Reading to children every day is a great way for them to learn new skills. Try these read-aloud concept books for preschoolers.

Research shows that if children start school with a strong set of attitudes and skills that help them "learn how to learn," they will be better able to take advantage of educational opportunities. While some learning skills come naturally to children, others can be developed through a supportive environment.

Tips for building learning skills:

  • Let them choose.
    Give kids a chance to make simple choices, such as what to wear or what to eat for a snack.
  • Help them finish what they start.
    Children experience great satisfaction when they try and finish new things. Give them a bit of support when they need it, but be careful not to take over completely.
  • Nurture creativity.
    Encourage children to ask questions, try different ways of using materials, or offer them a wide range of new experiences.
  • Don't rush activities.
    Whether at home or in preschool, children need extended periods of time to really get involved in activities and to experience the "engagement" that is such an important foundation for learning.
  • Provide encouragement.
    All children start life eager to learn, but if adults are critical, that eagerness may disappear by the elementary grades. Look for achievements to praise and acknowledge your child's progress whenever possible.

Three-year-olds increasingly know what they want and express their preferences. While playing, they are better able to ignore distractions and focus on the task at hand. They will even persist in completing something that is a bit difficult. Learning still happens primarily through exploring, using all the senses. Their growing language skills allow for more complex questions and discussion, and they can think more creatively and methodically when solving problems.

Initiative, Engagement, and Persistence

  • Becomes increasingly deliberate when choosing preferred activities and companions (e.g., child says, "I want to play at Jeremy's house today.").

  • Is able to focus attention for longer periods of time, even with distractions or interruptions, as long as the activity is age-appropriate and of interest (e.g., can repeatedly solve and dump out a wooden puzzle, even with the TV on in the background).

  • Persists with a wider variety of tasks, activities, and experiences. Keeps working to complete a task even if it is moderately difficult (e.g., persists with a somewhat challenging wooden puzzle).

  • Expands abilities to independently complete a range of self-help skills (e.g., feeding, undressing, grooming). May refuse adult assistance (e.g., tries over and over to pull on a sweater and pushes mom's hands away when she tries to help).

Curiosity and Eagerness to Learn

  • Continues to seek and engage in sensory and other experiences (e.g., listens to stories, plays with friends, takes trips to the fire station).

  • Continues to ask numerous questions, which are becoming more verbally complex (e.g., asks, "How we get to Nana's house?").

  • Seeks out new challenges (e.g., tries to dress a doll or put together a new construction toy).

Reasoning and Problem-solving

  • Continues to become more flexible in problem-solving and thinking through alternatives (e.g., when trying to put on shoes, talks to self about what to do first. If the shoe won't easily go on one foot, he or she tries the other foot.).

  • Increasingly able to ask for help on challenging tasks (e.g., says, "Can you put Teddy's pants on?").

  • Thinks more systematically. Benefits from conversations with adults and peers, as well as physical investigation.

Invention and Imagination

  • Grows in ability to sustain pretend play with other children (e.g., plays in pretend kitchen with friend, serving "cookies"). Takes on familiar roles (e.g., mom or dad) in pretend play.

  • Plays creatively with both language and objects. Expresses inventive ideas in an expanding set of situations (e.g., creates interesting scenes with small plastic animals; strings nonsense words together, "Mommy, nommy, sommy, tommy").

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