Age 1 to 3: What to expect

Your child is learning every day, making great strides in physical and mental development. What should you expect from your older baby or toddler between the ages of one and three? Here’s a handy guide.

1 to 3 years old : What to expect

Between their first and second birthdays, children…


  • Are energetic, busy and curious;
  • Are self-centered;
  • Like to imitate the sounds and actions of others (for example, by repeating words that parents and others say and by pretending to do housework or yard work with adults);
  • Want to be independent and to do things for themselves;
  • Have short attention spans if they are not involved in an activity that interests them;
  • Add variations to their physical skills (for example, by walking backwards);
  • Begin to see how they are like and unlike other children;
  • Play alone or alongside other toddlers;
  • Increase their spoken vocabularies from about 2 or 3 words to about 250 words and understand more of what people say to them;
  • Ask parents and others to read aloud to them, often requesting favorite books or stories; and
  • Pretend to read and write the way they see parents and others do.

Between their second and third birthdays, children…

  • Become more aware of others;
  • Become more aware of their own feelings and thoughts;
  • Are often stubborn and may have temper tantrums;
  • Able to walk, run, jump, hop, roll and climb;
  • Expand their spoken vocabularies from about 250 to 1,000 words during the year;
  • Put together 2-, 3- and 4-word spoken sentences;
  • Begin to choose favorite stories and books to hear read aloud;
  • Begin to count;
  • Begin to pay attention to print, such as the letters in their names;
  • Begin to distinguish between drawing and writing; and
  • Begin to scribble, making some marks that are like letters.
MORE  Height & weight growth charts for boys, ages 2-20

What toddlers need

1- to 2-year-old children require…

  • Opportunities to make their own choices: “Do you want the red cup or the blue one?”;
  • Clear and reasonable limits;
  • Opportunities to use large muscles in the arms and legs;
  • Opportunities to use small muscles to manipulate small objects, such as puzzles and stackable toys;
  • Activities that allow them to touch, taste, smell, hear and see new things;
  • Chances to learn about “cause and effect”-that things they do cause other things to happen (for example, stacking blocks too high will cause the blocks to fall);
  • Opportunities to develop and practice their language skills;
  • Opportunities to play with and learn about alphabet letters and numbers; and
  • Opportunities to learn about books and print.

2- to 3-year-old children require opportunities to…

  • Develop hand coordination (for example, by holding crayons and pencils, putting together puzzles or stringing large beads);
  • Do more things for themselves, such as dressing themselves;
  • Talk, sing and develop their language skills;
  • Play with other children and develop their social skills;
  • Try out different ways to move their bodies;
  • Learn more about printed language and books and how they work;
  • Do things to build vocabulary and knowledge and to learn more about the world, such as taking walks and visiting libraries, museums, restaurants, parks and zoos.

About this information: This material was excerpted from “Prepare My Child for School,” prepared by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, US Department of Education.

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