Your child's physical growth is starting to slow down as he nears his third birthday, but he's getting leaner and faster and more coordinated -- he can string large beads, catch a ball, build taller block towers, and pour his own syrup on his pancakes.
As his motor skills improve, he's also increasingly, joyously confident in his play, notes Roni Leiderman, PhD, an associate dean at the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "Don't be surprised if your child high-fives you as he learns new things and becomes more independent."Let's Play
Play truly is a child's work. When children engage in physical activity at this age, they improve their strength, endurance, and balance. Games with others help 2-year-olds build language skills and offer a way into the adult world of social rules. Meanwhile, your child's solo investigations into nature, music, and math can teach her about how the world works -- like how some things float while others sink, and how music can affect mood.
Your child has been engaging in symbolic play for months, using toys and dolls to act out events. As she nears her third birthday, "pretend play becomes more sophisticated," says Leiderman, and you'll see your child mix and match her props. "She may take a doll from one play set and mix it in with her building blocks, then walk that doll down a staircase made of blocks to get into a toy car."A Whole New World
In this new, revved-up fantasy life, your child can be a scary lion or a tender mother, a bossy queen or a baby, all while safely working out her emotional life and satisfying her curiosity about why people do things the way they do. Through imaginary play, kids have a chance to take on other points of view and mull over complex emotional issues too.
It's great fun to watch your child's imagination take fire as he rides a mop that has become a horse, serves a dinner made of grass and twig soup, or rides to the moon in a cardboard box. This burning imagination can sometimes result in unique (and occasionally comic) theories about how the world works. By now, your child observer understands certain things because he's seen them with his own eyes, like "the mailman always puts the letters in the mailbox after breakfast." However, for many inexplicable things about the world, like the rainbow over the river after the rainstorm, the explanation may be "magic" -- or your child might concoct stories of his own.
"A monster growled under my bed," she may insist, when explaining why she wants to sleep with you. Or, when you confront him about that broken lamp in the living room, he may claim that he didn't break it even if he was the only one in the room.