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Recommended reading Thinking, noticing and understanding Stages: 3 to 5 years

A 3-year-old’s brain is nearly 80% of the size of an adult’s brain. They have new and increased connections developing in their brain, especially in the vision centres. This helps their developing imagination and their ability to ‘see things in their mind’.

  • Their pretend or dramatic play with others is increasingly complex. They’re likely to want to show whānau they can do things for themselves, but at the same time they’ll need support and supervision.
  • Tamariki are looking carefully at what adults around them are doing. They’ll copy their actions and also notice inconsistencies between what adults say and what they do.
  • They can categorise things into groups based on different factors (e.g. colour, shape and texture) and can answer many questions sensibly.
  • Their understanding of time is developing, so they can accurately re-tell past events or talk about upcoming ones.
  • They can describe pictures accurately, re-tell stories and follow more complex instructions.
  • They have an increasing ability to concentrate and can be very focused, especially on activities they enjoy.
  • They’ll be more aware of letters and numbers around them and may be able to copy some.

Parents and caregivers can:

  • encourage their child’s skills and confidence through activities like building with blocks, manipulating dough, gardening, cooking and helping out at home
  • understand that the areas developing in the brain at this stage will likely mean an increase in creative and imaginative play
  • allow them to practice solving problems and making decisions for themselves through their play
  • let them try out their skills, without making tasks too hard — 3- and 4-year-olds might surprise adults with how helpful they can be with simple jobs around the house
  • enjoy and encourage both their successes and, as importantly, their attempts
  • spend time playing with tamariki, giving them a strong message they’re important and enjoyable to be with
  • give them opportunities to play with different people — parents, others outside the whānau and independently by themselves
  • talk about how things are the same or different, bigger or smaller
  • always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn through play (for example, make a big deal about the weather; an autumn day could be asking for a play in dried leaves)
  • encourage more complex conversations and use language that helps to expand their thinking and their vocabulary
  • talk with them about new or exciting things that are going to happen
  • bring their attention to numbers and letters around them, especially their age or the letters in their name
  • write the story they tell you under their drawing or create their own story book for recording what they want to share
  • count everything with them — the back stairs, the shoes at the front door, socks on the line.

Remember that by continuing to encourage and support their tamaiti, whānau are contributing to many other essential life skills they’ll use further down the track, and to a trusting and caring relationship to carry them through the future.

‘Create moments, make memories, shape destinies’.

Further information

  • Developing Child website: InBrief — The science of early childhood development

  short video from the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.

  https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-science-of-early-childhood-development/Opens in new window

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