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22 Practical Life Skills for 3 Year Olds

Here are a few practical life skills for 3 year olds that are so important to teach to your toddler in addition to all the typical education activities for toddlers.

Teach your toddler to be an independent little human being! If you're looking for new things to teach your toddler, you've come to the right place.

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If your toddler is anything like mine, after a few days of being home from daycare they just refuse to take part in any activities that you set up for them:

Do you want to paint? NO

Do you want to jump on the trampoline? NO

Would you like to play with the train set or the blocks? NO 

(Yea, my son is onto the whole "give them choices" thing - he figured out he can just say NO to all the options).

So while I definitely still do all the typical toddler activities, I realized that I have much better luck if I get him involved in doing grown up things. This works out great because I can get things done while my son tries to "help," and in the meantime he is learning important life skills.

And yea, there are days when he refuses to help, so I don't push him. But he is so proud and excited when he does help. Later, we always talk about what we did to reinforce what he learned. This helps him understand why or when certain chores get done in addition to how to physically do them.

Here is a list of life skills we are working on. My son is almost 3 years old when I write this, and we have a long way to go with most of these items. But just like everything else - it's a process!

The sooner he can do all these things independently, the sooner my husband and I can kick back with a glass of wine while our son takes care of all the household chores. (I can dream, right?)

RELATED: Free Printable Tooth Brushing Chart

Practical life skills for toddlers / life skills for preschoolers 

  1. Get dressed and undressed, and knowing where to find the specific clothes he should wear depending on weather and the occasion: shorts, pants, pajamas, swimsuit, daycare uniform, etc.
  2. Unload groceries (obviously not during a pandemic, but keep this one in mind for the future): I ask my son to hand me non-glass items from the grocery bags, and he gets to learn what everything is and where things go. I should get my husband to do this so he can find things in the kitchen lol. Maybe your toddler can help you organize the pantry during this time!
  3. Laundry: Sorting laundry, matching socks. Help put things in the hamper or into the washer or dryer (especially if they are front-loading). Fold washcloths and hand towels: left to right, then top to bottom (good prep for reading!).
  4. Wipe up spills.
  5. Set the table. If you can't trust your toddler with breakable plates, then perhaps he or she can help with the placemats, silverware, and napkins.
  6. Clean up after eating, bring dishes to the sink.
  7. Help with making easy snacks, such as putting together quesadillas, scooping out yogurt, or chopping fruits and veggies for snacks with a toddler-safe knife (this is the one we have). Try bananas, halved peaches, and cucumbers as easy-to-cut healthy snacks. Or make something fun, like monster donuts or monster popcorn!
  8. Help with baking: add pre-measured ingredients, whisk everything together. There are so many good opportunities for learning in the kitchen, read my article about why you should cook with your toddler!
  9. Make a smoothie: know the basic ingredients (milk, fruit, any other additions, such as spinach, peanut butter, etc), help chop the fruit, press the button on the blender.
  10. Ask for more water when thirsty. As opposed to throwing his sippy cup on the floor when it's empty, ugh!
  11. Feed the cats, and remembering to feed the cats when we eat.
  12. Water the plants.
  13. Empty the small trash containers into the big bin.
  14. Bring the diaper to the trash bin (yes, potty training should be a life skill.... but that is a whole other blog post!)
  15. Help unload the dishwasher. I unload everything breakable and sharp, then ask my son to help with all the plastic / silicone / stainless steel items. 
  16. Sort silverware.
  17. Clean: Help sweep and vacuum, help dust (and learn to see when something needs to be dusted). Clean up the toys (try these cleanup songs for toddlers to help motivate your kiddo!)
  18. Wash the car: use a soapy rag (with supervision!), hose down the car, dry the car with a towel.
  19. Help clean the windows: A dilute vinegar spray and a squeegee or a reusable towel is all our son needs to keep him busy. Sure, the windows might not be any cleaner than before he started, but at least I can do the top windows while he's right there trying to help, instead of me worrying why it's so quiet and what the heck is he up to.
  20. Take a bath and towel dry. Obviously a three year old will not be able to bathe himself or herself properly, but they can sure learn what needs to be done to get a proper bath - wash their hair, face, arms, hands, belly, etc., and then work on the motor skills to towel-dry themselves.
  21. Feed himself or herself and earn to eat pureed and liquid food without too many spills. This might be a no-brainer for those lucky parents whose babies have always enjoyed food, but many picky eaters refuse to eat on their own. We are still working on our son feeding himself anything other than his absolute favorite foods.
  22. Remember to take the keys when leaving the house. Our son always yells out "keys!" when we get ready to leave. And I appreciate that. Let's hope he remembers that when he is older and has the responsibility of not locking himself out.

I admit that doing most of these things with your toddler is going to take twice as long, and many parents don't always have the time or patience. But if you focus on incorporating just one of these life skill ideas at a time into your daily routine, you'll start seeing the results and see that in the end having a little helper will be a huge benefit. 

Our son goes to daycare and honestly, I wish they focused more on learning about day-to-day life activities like these than on numbers and letters. I believe that all of these life skills can be just as good developmental activities as memorizing colors and shapes.

I am not saying to stop teaching your toddler numbers, letters, colors, shapes, but this list is just more things to teach your toddler, which is never a bad thing!

RELATED: How to ease your and your child's anxiety about switching daycares

Because our son will be home from daycare for several months, I am planning on teaching him more of these skills. I want him to learn to set the table, and also to learn that the table needs to be set when I say "dinner is ready! Let's get ready to eat!"

I want him to notice that the bedroom trash bin is full and to ask to empty it.

I want our son to grow up into an independent little boy sooner rather than later, and to grow into a  man who will not expect a woman to do all these things and will not take for granted the emotional labor of the household that most women take on.

But even putting the feminist agenda aside, these are good skills for a toddler to learn, and it allows us to do a whole other set of toddler activities with our son beyond the typical coloring, painting, crafts, and train sets.

Looking for other toddler activities?

Try these more traditional toddler activities, such as puzzles, sensory activities, crafts, and awesome toys:

Looking for other toddler parenting resources?

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