Learn which Preschool Skills OT, PT, Speech Therapists, and Preschool Teachers think are most important in giving your 3 year old a strong foundation!

Learn which Preschool Skills OT, PT, Speech Therapists, and Preschool Teachers think are most important in giving your 3 year old a strong foundation! #preschoolreadiness #preschoolreadinessactivities #preschoolskills

Having your kiddo “ready” for 3 year old preschool can be stressful. But it really shouldn’t be. So far, 2 of my 4 kids have gone to 3 year old preschool programs and I have been thankful for the exposure they have had!

As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist within multiple preschool programs for 15 plus years, I often get asked what 3 year olds should be working on at home. The answer might surprise you!

Instead of just having an Occupational Therapist’s opinion on this question, I enlisted the help of some friends who are Preschool Teachers, Speech Therapists, and Physical Therapists.

We also sat down and compiled a list for kiddos transitioning into Kindergarten!

After MUCH debate and conversation, we narrowed down these skills as the most important Preschool Skills for 3 year olds going into Preschool. These skills will help give your kiddo a strong foundation. A foundation ready for learning.

Preschool Skills To Do at Home

At the tender age of 3, I strongly believe, that kiddos should not be sitting at desks and completing worksheets or elaborate crafts. There are so many different ways to help your kiddo grow both developmentally, academically, and socially.

#1. Increase Independence with Self Help Skills

Self Help areas are often overlooked as school readiness skills. But, when they get to school, there is some level of expectation that they are able to. This is not to say that their teacher and classroom aides are not there to help either.

When you look to start working on these skills do not aim for perfection! These are just areas to begin working on.

Also, the focus should be on the PROCESS not the end product. This means that tasks often will take longer as they are trying to figure out how to do it. Knowing that, have your kiddo practice when there is time to make mistakes and try again rather than as you are running out the door.

Self Help Preschool Skills to Focus On Include:

  • Putting on and taking off their jacket – Have you heard of the preschool flip? This is a great way to start teaching kids how to put their jacket on. If you have hooks at your house, have them hang it up too! At this age I don’t really worry about them zipping or buttoning their jacket
  • Learn how to to put on their socks – When I am teaching kids how to do this, I like using ankle socks that have a different colored bottom or visible writing on the bottom to serve as a visual cue that it’s on correctly. We have both these socks with the different colored bottom and these with writing in my house.
  • Put their shoes on – At this age, I don’t expect them to know which shoe goes on which foot. Instead I focus on getting their foot into the shoe and then securing it (if their shoes have velcro straps).
  • Potty Training – Including knowing when they need to go to the bathroom, and how to pull their pants down and up.
  • The steps to washing their hands
    1. Get hands wet
    2. Use 1 pump of soap
    3. Scrub hands while singing a song like ABC’s
    4. Rinse hands until all the bubbles are gone
    5. Dry hands with a towel
3 year old boy is sitting on a bench putting on his red shoes demonstrating a Preschool Skill.

#2 Preschool Gross Motor Skills

Gross Motor skills are activities that move the large muscles of your body: legs, trunk (or torso), and arms. Throughout child development, kiddos coordination for gross motor activities generally becomes more fluid.

Gross Motor Preschool Skills to Focus on Include:

  • Walking up and down the stairs using one foot on each step – While holding the railing
  • Galloping – Place one foot in front and one foot in the back. Move forward by stepping with the lead foot and have the other foot quickly catch up to it. The front foot always stays in the front! Take turns leading with each foot!
  • Animal Walks– These are great for strengthening and moving the entire body together. Try frog jumps, bear walking, horse, and bunny jumps with their two feet together.

If your kiddo is having a hard time with completing gross motor tasks, speak to your pediatrician. They may recommend a Physical Therapy evaluation .

#3 Preschool Skills That Work on Attention

Generally speaking, a 3 year old’s attention span is between 3-8 minutes long when engaged in an activity.

This is one of the biggest challenges of parents with preschoolers! I currently have a 3 year old at home. So I KNOW what you are going through! How do you keep up with their fleeting attention AND get something done?

The key is to find activities/objects that your kiddo finds engaging. Then, you limit their access to those same activities/objects. The element of surprise and the limited access increases engagement and responsiveness!

Dad reading to his 3 year old trying to improve their Preschool Skills.

Keeping that In mind, focus on these Preschool Skills that will encourage attention in your preschooler:

  • Read a toddler book together – Find a comfy chair or lay on the floor and read a short book. If your kiddo walks away while you are reading, stop reading and call them back. If your kiddo resists finishing the book, then either the book is not interesting enough to them, the book is too long, or the book is too wordy.

    Some kiddos really benefit from exaggerated reading with different voices, and actions. This is ok and great! You adjust to what engages your kiddo to start and then slowly back off. Remember the goal is for total engagement.
  • Follow 2-step directions – For example, go to the kitchen and sit down at the table. Teachers use multi-step directions throughout the school day!

    If your kiddo struggles with 2-step directions, start with 1-step directions first. Then slowly build up to 2-step directions by combining two 1-step directions that your kiddo has mastered.
  • Learn a Song that Has Motions – Songs with motions are a big hit at Preschools! But did you know that some kiddos have a hard time following a movement to a song? Pick simple songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “The Wheels On The Bus”, or “The Banana Dance” by Dr. Jean
  • Do Fine Motor Activities – This includes any activities that require your kiddo to use their hands. Some examples would be putting beads on a pipe cleaner, Peg Boards, using a squirt bottle, building a tower of blocks and Duplo Blocks.

    Here are more fine motor activities you can do with household items

    Or, if you are looking for fine motor activities that your kiddo can do outside then, this list might be more helpful.

If they continue to struggle with multi-step directions, speak to your pediatrician. A Speech Therapy evaluation may be recommended.

Taking the Next Step

Are you not sure where to start? I recommend starting with one item from the list above and see how your kiddo does with the activity. Also remember that this is just a guide and not a checklist. You do not have to address all of these skills.

All kiddos develop at different stages. My best advice for you is to meet your Kiddo where they are and then build from there.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I am sure that you are not the only one with the same question! I read all comments and would love to hear from you!

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Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of OT Perspective and a mom to 4 children. To learn more about her, check out her About Me page, here.