Major motor skills

Developmentthree year old is developing much better motor control. Children should kick, throw and catch a large ball. They can climb upstairs with alternating feet, but downstairs two feet to a step. They should also be able to stand on their preferred foot momentarily.

Fine motor skills

Children can draw with a pencil, copy a circle, are beginning to use scissors, thread beads on a string, can undress themselves if fastenings are undone, eat with a fork and spoon, and build a tower of nine cubes. They should be able to build a bridge of three cubes from a model.


Children will speak clearly and in sentences so that unfamiliar adults can understand what they are saying. They listen to stories, and ask lots of questions. They should be able to give their full name and sex.

Vision and hearing

Children should demonstrate everyday visual competence for near and far.

Social achievements and play

Children try to imitate adults, will try being helpful, will start joining in on play with other children, have a good imagination, will engage in make believe or pretend play, and most are toilet trained (though not always). Caregivers often report that they join in play with other children and understand sharing food and toys.

When to be concerned

Speak to your doctor if a three-year-old child:

  • Does not interact with other children, instead playing mostly alone;
  • Cannot run smoothly or climb stairs;
  • Cannot feed themselves;
  • Is a lot more or less active than other three year olds;
  • Is not speaking; or
  • Is speaking in a way that is not usually understandable.

More information

Developmental milestones in childhood For more information on developmental milestones in childhood, including recommended health check-ups and childhood immunisation, see Developmental Milestones.


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  2. Parenting and Child Health: Children, Youth and Women’s Health Service. Child development: 0-3 months [online]. Adelaide: Government of South Australia. 11 September 2008 [cited 31 October 2008]. Available from URL: HealthTopics/ HealthTopicDetails.aspx? p=114&np=122&id=1963
  3. Slater A, Hocking I, Loose J. Theories and issues in child development. In: Slater A, Bremner G [eds]. An Introduction to Developmental Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; 2003, 34-63.