I'd like to start planning out projects that my son and I can work on together. My goal is to create learning opportunities through interactive play, within 20-60 minute time periods.

I'm pretty open-ended on the types of learning opportunities these play sessions may provide. These sessions could cover everything from art to basic language skills to physical coordination and dexterity.

My son is 33 months old. I'd like to get these projects started as a regular activity, and keep them going at least until he starts school. My hope is to transition this into ability-appropriate supplemental education that we can build on top of his future public-school education (my version of homeschooling). This means that the topics will eventually transition to more academic topics (math, science, history, etc.), but for now I'd like to focus on skills appropriate to a toddler or pre-schooler.

To help me develop a list of suitable project, I plan on identifying developmentally-appropriate skills or concepts that my son could work on, and then try to develop fun activities that would focus on those skills.

The tricky part is to identify what skills he hasn't perfected, but which he has the developmental potential to perfect (or at least improve). I don't want to work on connect-the-dots, for example, until he has sufficient mastery of hand-eye coordination to successfully draw from point A to point B.

While there are plenty of documented guidelines for expected milestones, these are typically framed as "by this age, they should be able to do x, y, and z, and may be able to do a, b, and c." The actual age at which children hit these milestones varies quite widely from individual to individual, and any given child can hit some milestones early, and others late.

How do I track my son's progress in a way that will let me keep pace right on the edge, so to speak, of where his ability starts to fall behind his current potential?

3 Answers 3


Start here:


Map out each skill level your child has, and what the next skill would be. When considering a skill mastered look for whether the skill is stable and generalized, meaning is it used consistently and is it used in all environments.

Next, look here:


Locate the skill you want to work on and in the last column you'll find activities which can facilitate the skill.

This link:


Is useful as long as you're very cognizant of whether the activity which comes up is appropriate for your child's skill levels. It's nice because it's easy, a couple clicks and you've got an activity, but it's not focused on your particular child's skill levels so you really have to mold the activity to be appropriate.

Hope that helps.

EDIT (additional resources):

I specialize in birth - 36 months, so my resources for other age groups are somewhat limited, but here are some things I found in my links file. I apologize for not having more.

Virginia Dept. of Social Services has a nice handout which goes up above 48 months: http://www.dss.virginia.gov/files/division/cc/provider_training_development/intro_page/publications/milestones/milestones_one_document/milestones.pdf

The CELL Parent Practice Guides are good, but they don't break down ages as explicitly: http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/pgparents.php#preschoolers

The CDC has some general tips: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/preschoolers.html

The CDC also has a nice chart you can print out and check off skills: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/MilestoneMomentsEng508.pdf

Hope that helps.

  • These are great resources, and exactly the type of thing I was looking for. Unfortunately, they all end at 3 years, and my son has mastered the majority (but not all) of the 30-36 month skills, and has good progress on a fair number of the 3 year skills. What's here will keep us busy for several months, to be sure, but I want to continue this as long as feasible. Are there similar resources available that progress past the 3 year mark, or which offer a more detailed breakdown from 36 months to 48 months?
    – user420
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 12:34
  • @Beofett I added the resources I have, unfortunately I don't have as many for that age group. Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 0:41

I think what you're looking for is something termed in education as the zone of proximal development, a scaffolding concept developed by Lev Vygotsky. Simply, the ZPD is the distance between what a student knows in a given area and what he/she needs to know and can learn with the help of someone who has all ready mastered the skill. In a classroom, for example, a teacher might pair a student who is still learning their 5 times tables with one who has all ready mastered them.

In order for this whole thing to work well, you (or whoever is going to be instructing your son) needs to sit down and really think about the things your son needs to be able to do in order to successfully master a given skill. For example, if you wanted your son to be able to build a birdhouse, he'd need to know not only how to hammer and nail, but also how to measure, use a saw to cut, etc. so he would need to be taught each of those things before he could be expected to successfully build the birdhouse. You might construct little tasks that would allow him to practice and master each of those skills individually before moving on to building a whole birdhouse. Now I obviously don't think you're going to be teaching a 33-month-old to build a birdhouse, but I wanted to use that as an example so you could see how you need to breakdown each skill into its constituent parts. At first, it can be difficult because a lot of times the things that we, as adults, are trying to teach young children is so rudimentary that we don't really realize how complex a given process really is.

Anyway, maybe this isn't at all what you're getting at, but it sort of seems like it from your wording.


I think it would be useful to choose rather open ended projects that let you be agile about what your child will do in them and what will constitute done. You mention connect-the-dots and not knowing if he can or not yet. If you make up a connect the dots worksheet and bring it to him, that could lead to either of you becoming frustrated or not enjoying the activity. Instead, you could try something like this:

  • let's make marks on the paper! This is cool, isn't it?
  • let's make marks together. Do something, I'll copy it. That's fun! Can you copy this? Wow, that looks a lot like mine!
  • you draw something - a line or two. I'll "finish" it. Now I'll start something and you "finish" it.
  • I'll draw some dots, and show them to you, and then start connecting them. Can you connect some too?

Within this one activity you can go as far as you like in terms of teaching him to draw specific shapes, naming shapes, having him name a shape you draw or draw a shape you name - or you could stay at "we're having fun scribbling together" for a long time. In the same way playing with blocks that have letters or numbers on them could be about naming things, putting things in order, spelling, counting, or a variety of other things. If you have some sort of musical instruments, it could be "let's make noises!" or it could work up to copying the notes you played, naming notes, understanding chords (perhaps not at 33 months, but you're thinking long term) and so on.

If the child doesn't know there's a goal to reach, they can't fail. They just keep on succeeding and doing fun stuff with you. The more open ended your activities are at the start, and the more you can "be in the moment" enjoying them, the less the chance that you'll be frustrated. Exploring art, words, numbers, music, how structures hold together and collapse, ... you're going to have such a great time! Almost makes me wish for that time again myself. Almost :-).

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