Tips for parents of a three-year-old

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. - Dr. Seuss

Happy 3rd Birthday! Look how far you’ve come!

Your child is three-years-old, and three is an exciting time! Many things are changing for your child as he or she gets a little bit older, and we hope all of your child’s new skills fill you with joy.

We also understand that age three can bring new challenges to families, as your child develops his or her own strong opinions. This page contains some tips to help your child find his or her way in this new world as an increasingly independent three-year-old!

At three, the big and exciting next step for your child is the start of school next year. Watch our video and read the following tips, which focus on preparing you and your child for that step.

Download and modify this letter to give to your child’s school. Feel free to change the text as you need. We have highlighted areas for you to complete and customize the letter for your family.

Physical health and well-being »

At school, your child will need to move around independently and take care of himself or herself in basic ways.

According to the Ontario Kindergarten Program, in kindergarten:¹

  • Children play inside and outside, move around the classroom, and sit in chairs and on the floor. They move in a variety of ways in a variety of settings.
  • Children should be able to feed themselves their own snacks and lunches.
  • Children need to be able to follow routines and rules in the classroom.
  • Some children may have access to an Educational Assistant or Special Needs Assistant who can help with these activities.

You can help your child get ready for kindergarten:

  • Play in parks, running, climbing, and jumping – this will help your child to learn more about his or her body and how to use it. If your child needs equipment to move, he or she should have that available to take to school.
  • Have fun drawing with crayons and snipping with child safety scissors to prepare for some popular kindergarten tasks.
  • Encourage your child to try to put on and take off some pieces of clothing on his or her own. Practice how to put on and take off a jacket, hat, mittens, boots, and shoes. To start, have your child help with some of the easier steps such as pulling off his or her shoes after you have undone the laces or straps.
  • Boost your child’s independence with eating. This includes opening a lunch bag and food containers. If zippers are difficult, try Velcro. If zip sealed bags are difficult, try containers with lids that snap on and off.
  • Practice toileting routines. Toilet training, while not essential for kindergarten, is important and can be practiced ahead of time.

A note about toe walking:

Children who were born early may walk on their toes!²

If you notice that your child is walking on his or her toes most of the time (more than half of the time), please call us and we will set up an appointment to take a look.

Thinking and learning »

At school, your child will learn about many things! Even before school starts, you can encourage your child to learn new things over this year as they prepare for school.

In kindergarten¹ children learn! They make meaning of their world by asking questions, solving problems, and thinking creatively. They do this on their own and with others.

  • Children explore, count, measure, sort, build, organize, and predict patterns.
  • Children practice being independent and the controlling their actions. They need to sit still for short periods and pay attention to teachers who will be teaching something new or communicating rules.

You can help your child get ready for kindergarten:

  • Get out there and play with others!
    • Daycare and preschool are great ways to help your child learn new ideas, but it does not have to be full time! Your child can attend a few mornings a week to make a difference. Mornings tend to be better than afternoons, which have nap times worked into them.
    • If daycare or preschool is not an option, there are many free or low cost programs that help children develop new thinking and learning skills.
  • Read!
    • Books are a wonderful way to build your child’s knowledge and language. As you read, talk about the story with your child. You can do this in many different ways:
      • Encourage your child to point to pictures and name them.
      • Ask simple questions about the story, how the characters are feeling, what they are doing, and what is going to happen next.
      • Encourage your child to ask questions too!
    • Books can be expensive, but you can easily borrow books for free from a public library. Check with your local library about how to get a library card.
  • Practice sitting still while playing
    • Some children struggle to sit still to play or work on a task for short periods of time. Think of this as a skill that just needs practice, like when your child was learning to walk. Build up this skill by spending a few minutes at a time sitting still with your child and doing something your child finds very interesting (he or she will need your help!). As your child gets better at this, you can increase the length of time with one activity:
    • Try play dough, toy cars, toy tools, or toy musical instruments. Whatever the activity, try to “add” to your child’s play. For example, if your child is pushing a car back and forth, show him to drive it into a cup and park it “in the garage.”
    • Play pretend! Pretend play usually looks like everyday activities that your child sees you do, such as household chores.
    • Watch educational and interactive programs together.

A note on screen time:

Spending lots of time on computers and tablets or watching TV can affect children’s growth³ and the development of learning,⁴ communication,⁵ and emotional well-being.⁶ We encourage you to limit your child’s exposure to a screen (TV, computer, tablet, phone) to less than 1 hour per day.⁷

When your child does watch a program, we recommend you watch too! This becomes a moment for you to teach and share. Programs such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood are free on YouTube in short parts and offer quality educational programming.⁸

Sesame Street is great for teaching about early reading skills, numbers, colours, how to get along with your friends. Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood focuses on learning to be a good neighbour or friend, feelings, and how to control feelings.

School readiness programs »

Programs that are free/low cost and do not require registration:

There may be school readiness programs available through your local school board and municipality. Information is available on websites for regional school board and governments.

You can also call 211 or visit to find programs in your neighbourhood.

Communication »

At school, your child will communicate with other children and adults. Being able to share thoughts and feelings is important!

In kindergarten¹ children communicate with others in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of settings.

You can help your child prepare for kindergarten:

  • Use words for colours, opposites (hot/cold, big/little, fast/slow) and actions (flying, splashing, running) when you are talking to him or her.
  • Give your child extra time to share his or her ideas.
  • Give your child choices (what toys to play with, clothes to wear).
  • Read books that are predictable and repetitive, then pause to give your child a chance to fill in words and phrases.

If you have concerns about how your child communicates, contact your local hearing, speech and language program.

If you have concerns that your child is not communicating and does not appear interested in communicating, please contact us in the Neonatal Follow Up Clinic.

Relationships »

The most important skills your child will need in order to go to school next year are playing and working with others, and listening to the teacher. These are big skills and will need practice this year.

In kindergarten¹ children develop their social skills to get along with others when playing, sharing, and working together.

You can help your child prepare for kindergarten:

  • Be a role model! A big way that children learn how to interact with others is by watching us, the adults around them. How we behave sets the tone for how they will behave.
  • Arrange playdates! Set a play date with the child of a family member or friend and provide some guidance. Play games that involve taking turns or sharing. At this age, one hour is usually enough. If it is too long, they may become bored or tired.
  • Register for preschool or daycare or attend the many free or low cost programs in the province.

Parenting resources »

We love these, and we think you will too!

These resources may help you learn more about your child, find local resources, or connect with other parents of children born early or requiring intensive care support.

These have a bit of everything:

Preterm Specific Web Resources:

More on Preparing for Kindergarten:

Physical Activity for Children:

Toilet Training:

Screen Time and Media Use:

Speech and Language:

Parenting Programs:


1. Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). The Kindergarten Program 2016. Retrieved from:

2. Baber, S., Michalitsis, J., Fahey, M., Rawicki, B., Haines, T., & Williams, C. (2016). A comparison of the birth characteristics of idiopathic toe walking and toe walking gait due to medical reasons. The Journal of Pediatrics, 171, 290—293. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.12.069

3. Cox, R., Skouteris, H., Rutherford, L., Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M., Dell’ Aquila, D., & Hardy, L. L. (2012). Television viewing, television content, food intake, physical activity and body mass index: A cross-sectional study of preschool children aged 2-6 years. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 23, 58–62.

4. Lin, L. Y., Cherng, R. J., Chen, Y. J., Chen, Y. J., & Yang, H. M. (2015). Effects of television exposure on developmental skills among young children. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 20—26. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2014.12.005

5. Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. The Journal of Pediatrics, 151, 364—368.

6. Hinkley, T., Verbestel, V., Ahrens, W., Lissner, L., Molnár, D., Moreno, L., …, IDEFICS Consortium. (2014). Early childhood electronic media use as a predictor of poorer well-being: a prospective cohort study. The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, 168, 485-92. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.94

7. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. (2016). Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics, 138, e20162591.

8. Christakis, D. A., Garrison, M. M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F. P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K. (2013). Modifying media content for preschool children: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 131, 431—438.