18 to 36 Months
I Learn About What My Body Can Do
  • I can do so many things for myself—pour milk on my cereal, wash myself in the bathtub, dress myself in simple clothing.
  • I can do so much with my fingers and hands: turn the pages of a book, scribble with crayons, and even draw shapes like a circle. I can thread beads with large holes and use kid scissors. I can stir the cake mix, work the VCR and TV remote, and help sort laundry.
  • I kick and throw balls. I can stand on 1 foot. I learn to go up and down the stairs with only 1 foot on each step!
I Learn About My Feelings & Who I Am
  • I am learning self-control. I understand more often what you expect of me. Sometimes I can stop myself from doing things I shouldn’t, but not always. I learn to control my behavior when you give me only a few simple, clear rules to follow and help me when I forget.
  • I love my independence, but I also still need you to help me and to do things for me. Sometimes I push you away. Other times I want you to hold me close.
  • I may have new fears—the dark, monsters, people in costumes—because I don’t really know the difference between fantasy and reality. My fears can make it hard for me to go to sleep at night and can make me wake up and call out for you sometimes.
  • I tune in carefully to your tone and words. I can tell when you are very sad or scared or upset, and sometimes, I feel sad, scared, and upset, too. I know whether you think I am good or bad, pretty or ugly, dumb or smart.
  • My curiosity can lead me into “off-limits” territory. I need you to keep me safe and to help me learn right from wrong.
I Learn About People, Objects, & How Things Work
  • I am very tuned in to other kids. I am aware of differences, like gender, age, and skin color.
  • I can “play pretend” and use my imagination. I will care for my dolls and animals. I will start to make up stories. I can turn my block tower into a house and even use a block as a phone. When you watch me and join in, you can learn a lot about what I am thinking and feeling. When we play that I’m the mommy going off to work, you see that I am learning to deal with our separations.
  • I learn how to care for others by the way you care for me. I may rub your back or comfort a friend who is sad.
  • I learn to explore toys and objects in more and more complex ways. I can organize them too—like putting all the toys with wheels together.
  • I like to play with other kids. We are getting better at sharing but still need help often.
I Learn to Communicate & Relate
  • I also communicate by using my body. I make up dances, songs, and stories, and I draw pictures that tell you what is on my mind.
  • I can put words together into sentences.
  • I can tell you about things that happened yesterday and about what will happen tomorrow.
  • I like songs, fingerplays (like “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”) and games with nonsense words
  • I love hearing and reading stories, especially about things I know—like animals, families, and places I have visited.
  • I may get frustrated trying to express myself. I need you to listen patiently. It can help if you put into words what you think I am trying to say because it makes me feel understood and helps me learn new words.
  • I may know up to 200 words in my home language and sometimes in a second language, too.
  • Sometimes I like to “read” or tell you a story.
For more information, visit Zero to Three. Adapted from Bringing Up Baby: Three Steps to Making Good Decisions in Your Child's First Years by Claire Lerner and Amy Laura Dombro 2005.

What Do Preschoolers Do
  • Copy shapes and some letters.
  • Draw and write with pencils, crayons, and markers.
  • Enjoy the same books over and over and look at new books.
  • Imitate adult writing by scribble writing.
  • Listen to stories and to conversations.
  • Make up silly words and stories.
  • Master many rules of grammar.
  • Retell familiar stories to themselves and others.
  • See print around them and watch adults read and write.
  • Talk to adults and to other children in complex sentences.
  • Think about what the characters in a book might feel or do.
  • Use language to think, to share ideas and feelings, and to learn new things.
Preschoolers like many different kinds of books.
  • Ask the children's librarian at your local library to suggest books for your child. Get ideas from other families, caregivers, and people who know your child well.
  • Let your child see him - or herself in books. Choose books about families like yours and people from your culture and ethnic group.
  • Look for books that match your child's experiences:
    • a change in the family--the birth of a baby.
    • a new event--going to the dentist
    • a special interest--bugs
    • something familiar--going to child care
  • Look for paperback versions of your child's favorite books, in English and in your family's home language. Encourage family and friends to swap books and give them as gifts. And remember that yard sales and neighborhood bazaars often have very inexpensive secondhand children's books.
  • Make regular trips to the library to borrow books, tapes, and other materials. If possible, have your child get his or her own library card.
Preschoolers are more likely to learn to love books if they are read to.
  • Add information to help the child understand the story. "Blueberries are easy to pick because they grow on low bushes. Remember when we saw blueberries in the supermarket?"
  • Expect and encourage interruptions. Stop to talk about the pictures and the story in each book, and the ways they relate to your child's life. Ask and answer questions.
  • Read with lots of enthusiasm. Change your voice to fit different characters and feelings such as sad, excited, or happy.
  • Set aside a time each day when you and your child can relax and read together. Make these special times when you enjoy each other's company and explore the new worlds and ideas found in books. Children who are read to are more likely to love books and to be strong readers.
Preschoolers learn about reading when they look at books by themselves and when they see adults reading.
  • Bring along a bag of books when you leave home. Your child can read on the bus or subway, in a car, at the laundromat, and at the doctor's office.
  • Set up a reading shelf, basket, or corner where your child can reach books without help. Store books upright so that the child can easily find the 1 he or she is looking for. Almost any room in the home--kitchen, bathroom, living room, or bedroom--is a good place to keep books.
  • Show your child how you use books, newspapers, and other written materials to find out what time a store opens, what the weather will be like, or what you need for a recipe.
  • Show your child that reading is an important and useful skill. Children love to imitate adults. A child who sees you enjoying a book or magazine will want to do the same.
For more information, visit Kid Source.