Learning and Development: Young Children 24 to 36 Months

The two-to-three year old likes to climb, run, and stomp. Think of the child as vigorous, energetic and enthusiastic. Language development is rapid and the child becomes more interested in other children. Find out more about developmental milestones and learning goals associated with brain development for children ages two to three in each area below:

Physical Characteristics

  • Jumps from low objects
  • Climbs, runs, but can’t change direction quickly
  • Sits on riding toys and pushes with feet; may ride trike
  • Throws objects using forearms
  • Increasing fine motor development
  • Kicks still balls
  • Learns by using body

Learning Goals for Physical Development (Brain Development)

  • Strengthen small muscle skills (cutting, tearing, drawing, lacing)
  • Develop eye/hand coordination (pre-writing skills)
  • Develop large muscle skills (climbing, skipping, catching a ball)

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Allow children to run, throw, catch, jump, climb, ride on riding toys
  • Low climbing structures
  • Modeling clay activities
  • Blocks and puzzles
  • Containers that can be filled and emptied with sand or water (under supervision)
  • Lacing or sewing activities; cutting and pasting

Cognitive/Language Characteristics

  • Responds to simple directions
  • Has limited attention span
  • Begins to count, put things in order (sequence) and match objects
  • Begins imitating adults
  • Begins using more language in play
  • Vocabulary greatly increases
  • Can speak in simple phrases
  • Has lively imagination and loves to pretend
  • Gradually focuses less on pictures in a book and more on their images created in child’s mind

Learning Goals for Cognitive/Language Development (Brain Development)

  • Develop reasoning and problem solving skills
  • Work out problems mentally rather than through trial and erro
  • Expand creativity and logical thinking
  • Develop reading readiness skills (turning pages left to right)
  • Increase vocabulary, memory and speech by labeling items in books and asking questions
  • Develop counting sequence, matching skills

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Let children work out problems independently
  • Encourage creativity with large pegs to group, sort, or stack, paints, large crayons, etc.
  • Talk clearly to children using simple, positive statements, allowing children to respond back
  • Expose children to variety of books, like picture books, short story books, poems, rhymes
  • Ask children to guess what will come next in a story
  • Ask children to picture things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future
  • Sing throughout the day
  • Bend, kneel or sit down to establish eye contact when talking to children

Social/Emotional Characteristics

  • Plays near and watches other children
  • Fantasy and role play become more evident
  • Says “no” often and is protective of possessions
  • Usually pleasant, but still establishing independence and can be stubborn, negative and demanding
  • Recognizes and expresses emotion
  • May develop fears
  • Starts an activity after suggestion made

Learning Goals for Social/Emotional Development (Brain Development)

  • Learn to use words to settle arguments
  • Begin learning to get along with others
  • Learn about their feelings and that it’s okay to feel silly, sad, angry
  • Learn to be a separate person
  • Begin learning to respect rights of others and to share
  • Begin learning to manage conflict

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Encourage creative expression
  • Encourage sharing and taking turns
  • Finger plays
  • Provide opportunities for dramatic play with simple themes and props
  • Have multiples of popular toys and materials available
  • Encourage children to state own feelings and intentions
  • Deal calmly with fears without making fun of children
  • Explain the rules or consequences of behavior, so children can learn the “whys”
  • Point out how child’s behavior affects others

Self-Help Characteristics

  • Can feed self
  • Can wash and dry hands with help
  • Begins to be toilet-trained
  • Can dress self with help
  • Can help put things away

Learning Goals (Brain Development)

  • Develop positive self-esteem
  • Become more confident of abilities
  • Become more independent

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Encourage children to serve self, help set the table, wash own hands, put on own shoes/socks
  • Provide soap and towels, child-size utensils
  • Sit with children during meals, encouraging conversation
  • Give simple responsibilities, which can be accomplished


  • Classroom should contain a diapering area and a bathroom, an eating area and a play area divided into centers, such as book/reading area, manipulatives, blocks, dramatic play, music, art, and large motor area. Environment should be rich in both written and oral language, with lots of books and storytelling. Label different parts of room or area
  • Reading area should be cozy and inviting with pillows, puppets, stuffed animals, flannel board, etc.
  • Outside area should have sun and shade, resilient ground cover, and include swings, low climbers, playhouse, sand and sand toys
  • Individual attention, close supervision, and responsive caregiving are critical to future development