Maturity in the 2- to 3-year-old classroom or playroom

“Does age really matter when it comes to the level of a child’s maturity?” It’s a common question among parents, especially parents whose kids are about to start school.

Even though children who are between the ages of two and three belong to a single group (toddlers), their levels of maturity within that group differs. This is the reason why some schools – like Montessori schools – refuse to group children together based on their age. They assign kids who have the same level of maturity to the same grade level instead. However, maturity level is one of those character traits that different people can perceive differently, and some children will behave differently in different environments – which is why, in most educational settings, age is used as a guideline for how to make sure children are learning alongside their peers in terms of maturity.

Levels of maturity

There are various factors that contribute to a child’s maturity, and maturity develops in a dynamic process that ends up lasting a lifetime.

Physical maturity, or the maturity of a child’s body, can develop along a different timeline from the maturity of their emotional and social skills, sometimes referred to as their emotional, intellectual, and social maturity. These different types of development can all be affected by environment, and by the relationships in a child’s life.

Physical maturity


  • Prominent belly pooch – because their tummy muscles are not yet strong enough to support the abdomen
  • Waddles
  • Spine is curved forward


  • Waddling stops
  • Belly pooch flattens
  • Spine straightens – making the child appear slimmer and taller
  • A child’s future body type becomes more apparent at this stage

Emotional maturity


  • Seek independence – this is why they are seen as stubborn a.k.a “terrible twos”
  • Show negativism, or the “no, no!” phase


  • Show initiative
  • Imitates parents and other people around them
  • Starting to learn the difference between what’s real and what’s not
  • May develop a strong preference for one parent or the other

Intellectual maturity


  • Symbolic thought stage: They don’t need to perform an action before they can figure out how it’s done. They can now start to form an action in their minds.
  • Assimilation stage: Children start associate knowledge they already have with new information. For example, your child might shake a television remote to see if it will make a sound, because the toy rattle that they used to play with did so when shaken.


  • Intuitive thought stage: constantly ask “why?”
  • Conservation stage: Children may not realize the way proportions work in terms or more/less or bigger/smaller containers. For example, a child may choose a small bowl brimming with cereal, rather than a bigger bowl with the same amount of cereal because there appears to be more cereal in the first one.

Social maturity


  • Prefer to play side-by-side (parallel play) with other children
  • Are becoming aware of gender differences and gender norms


  • Start to share
  • Start to play directly with other children, rather than side-by-side

A child’s level of maturity plays an important role in the classroom. Each child matures in his or her own unique way, and it is important that a classroom or playroom should provide an environment for all children to advance at their own pace. In most cases, age makes a good rough guide for the right spot of a child, but for children who have more of a tendency to follow their own pace, some families find it helpful to look for environments with mixed ages for their children around this stage.

  • “Areas of maturity.” The Center for Parenting Education. The Center for Parenting Education. Retrieved December 12 2017.
  • “Research in brain function and learning.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 12 2017.
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