25 to 36 months Developmental summary

Topic What's going on for baby? How can parents and whānau help?
Developing motor skills

Our young tamaiti is growing bigger and stronger and becoming more co-ordinated. Their large motor skills and abilities will continue to improve as they use their big muscles for running, jumping, throwing and climbing.

They will also be developing their fine motor skills when building, drawing, playing with small toys and doing other activities that require manipulation. These activities use all the small muscles, especially those in their hands and fingers.

As their fine motor skills progress and they become more proficient, they’ll be ready to learn to use scissors and to do threading activities.

As always with more motor ability, including both large body strength and finer manipulative skills, children are likely to use their growing skills and confidence to explore anything and everything. That means those who care for them may be presented with more challenges to keep them safe.

  • Give their child plenty of outside playtime.
  • Visit playgrounds, parks and open spaces for running, jumping, climbing, sliding and swinging activities.
  • Encourage ball play — kicking, throwing and catching.
  • Now that their child can climb independently, it’s a good idea to review safety around the house and garden. Adults will need to keep reviewing the safety of the environment as their child’s skills continue to develop.
  • Give them lots of opportunities to use crayons, felt pens, chalk, paint, glue and collage materials.
  • Give them lots of experiences using blocks.
  • Have small scissors with rounded tips available for their child to use. Start with cutting play dough — it doesn’t slip or slide like paper can. Encourage a one-handed grip on the scissors and use prompts like ‘Thumb up, fingers down and squeeze’.
  • For threading activities, use a shoelace knotted at one end. Thread household objects such as milk bottle tops with a hole drilled in the middle. Again, use verbal prompts to guide them, for example ‘Poke (the end through), grab that end with the other hand and pull all the way through’.
    Keep their growing tamaiti safe by supervising their activities.
  • Keep matches, lighters and all medications well out of reach. Remember to warn visitors about these risks too.
  • Check the house, the garage and the garden for possible hazards. These places may seem harmless to adults but can pose a risk to a curious and adventurous child.
  • Make sure their child can’t get out on the road and remind all whānau and visitors to be aware of safety in the driveway.
Developing social skills

At this stage our tamaiti is becoming more interested in playing with other children. Younger children will play in parallel, watching what each other is doing. Now they’ll begin to interact more and play with each other. They’re also likely to enjoy pretend play with friends and whānau.

They are beginning to understand simple rules and will often be able to keep them. At the same time, ‘mine’ becomes a favourite word as they become more self-aware.

  • Arrange for their child to spend time with other children, at home and/or at playgroups, Te Kōhanga Reo or ECE.
  • Don’t expect them to share easily but do encourage them to do this. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about having a turn rather than sharing.
  • Consider letting their child choose one or two special playthings that can be put away, so they don’t have to be shared, when other children come to their house to play.
  • Have a small number of rules (between 3 and 5) which all adults support the child to keep.
  • Explain the reasons for a rule.
  • Acknowledge their child for keeping a family rule or trying to keep it — catch them being good!
  • Understand that saying ‘mine’ is part of a child’s learning. When a child is developing a sense of themselves and learning they are independent from their parents, it’s a short step to feeling they own something.
  • Have props, such as hats and bags, that can help children take on different roles.
  • Make simple masks using paper bags.
Language and communication skills

During this stage our tamaiti will be communicating more. They will continue to understand a lot more than they can say, but their expressive language (what they can say) will be increasing.

As well as using their voice, they will be getting their message across with gestures, body language and facial expressions.

They will be using more single words, and they will also combine words more often. This could increase to about 4 words in a short sentence. For example, ‘Go park car now’.

Often they will miss out the smaller words which are not essential to get the meaning across, such as ‘to’, ‘in’ or ‘the’.

Having interested people to communicate with, and things to explore and communicate about, is necessary for their on-going language development.

They will ask lots of questions because their enquiring minds want to know about many things. Their questions will usually start with ‘what’, ‘where’ or ‘why’.

  • Enjoy having lots of conversations with their child.
  • Help their child speak correctly in their family’s language by agreeing with them and repeating the correct version back to them. This technique of modelling, rather than pointing out mistakes or correcting their grammar, will encourage them to keep communicating.
  • Continue to share stories, books, rhymes and songs, as these will all enrich their language.
  • Enjoy creative and expressive activities like music, singing and pretend play.
  • Enrol their child in, and visit, the local library.
  • Welcome questions — their child is exercising their curiosity and this will feed their mind.
  • Sometimes say ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Why?’
Learning about emotions

Young children may feel stress as a result of fear and other unpleasant emotional experiences. When this happens too often, it can have a negative effect on their brain development. A child’s stress can also result in a range of behaviours that upset or irritate their parents.

At this age children may begin to experience fears that haven’t been evident before. Parents may struggle with this new stage, not understanding why their child is suddenly afraid of something that didn’t use to trouble them.

Fears can be prompted by a child’s developing memory skills, which mean they are now more able to recall past events or experiences. Their increasing intellectual awareness and ability to understand more of what is said, both to them directly and around them, can also lead to fear.

A child may also experience fear of the ‘unknown’ as they don’t yet understand many of the things in their world.

  • Provide reassurance when their child is upset, until they have returned to a calm state.
  • Repair any ‘rupture’ when parent and child have been dealing with anger and upset feelings. This process of ‘kissing and making up’ after an emotional upset helps a child to build resilience. Resilience is a protective factor which helps a child to face and deal with emotional challenges in the future.
  • Understand it’s normal for children of this age to find some things frightening — this can include dogs, the dark, water going down the plughole, new situations, new people, going to the doctor, or having a haircut.
  • Avoid telling the child they are being silly and acknowledge that their fears are real for them.

Support the child through the situation that frightens them, then talk about it afterwards, explaining the scary thing in simple terms.

Maths learning

Between the ages of 2 and 3 children develop their memory for the ways things are done and the order in which they happen. This is known as the process, and it is an important aspect of early maths learning. It’s also a fundamental aspect of participating in most everyday events.

Put in another way, when a child understands the order in which things happen, they can anticipate what is likely to happen next. When they can anticipate, they are more able to participate.

They are starting to understand concepts such as big and small, same and different, and the meaning of one and two. They can use this understanding to match objects, and are likely to enjoy games and other activities that involve putting similar things together. This skill is also necessary for basic maths learning.

  • Talk about the steps that make up the process — ‘First we’ll do …, next we’ll …’
  • Talk about past events, such as what happened when the family went somewhere together.
  • Talk about what’s happening right now — what they’re looking at, touching and exploring.
  • Draw their attention to objects which are the same in one way, but different in other ways. This could include different sizes, colour or shapes.
  • Use the words ‘one’ and ‘two’ during everyday activities.
  • Ask their child to give them one object such as a peg, then two objects.
  • Count when going up and down steps.
  • Say rhymes and finger plays with numbers in them, for example ‘Two little dicky birds’.
  • Talk about ‘same’ and ‘different’.
  • Match pairs of socks and pegs of the same colour.
  • Collect bits and pieces when going on walks, and then take time sorting them — by colour, size or shape.
  • Find fun ways to tidy up and add in maths talk — pick up all the yellow/red/blue things, all the red blocks, all the books, or all the puzzle pieces.
  • Have a ‘colour’ day — wear clothes of the colour, eat food of the colour, do drawings in that colour and look for and collect things of that colour.
Self Care

With their growing skills and abilities, young children between the ages of 2–3 years want to do more and more by and for themselves. They are likely to want to dress and feed themselves, and to show they are ready to learn to use a potty or the toilet.

  • Take time to help their child learn to dress and undress themselves.
  • Help their child learn to clean their teeth and wash their hands — do it with them.
  • Let them practise putting on clothing such as socks, shoes, trousers or a hat.
  • Let them help with jobs like sorting and putting washing away, putting shopping away, setting the table, washing vegetables and mixing ingredients for baking.
  • Let them feed themselves with a spoon or a fork.
  • Watch for signs their child is ready for toilet learning, and understand they’ll need their child’s co-operation to learn this skill. Parents can’t make them do it. If it becomes a struggle, leave it for a while and try again in a few weeks.
  • Read some picture books about using a potty.