Communication Development: By 3 Years

Communication Development: By 3 Years

Here is some information about how children's communication skills usually develop by the age of 3. Below are some activity suggestions to encourage communication from 3 years. Use the language that you are most familiar and comfortable with.


By 3 years, what should my child be able to say and do?


Uses a vocabulary of several hundred words.

Uses describing words, such as 'fast' and 'small'.

Combines 3 or more words into a sentence; for example, "what's daddy doing?".

Talks about things that are not present.


Understands instructions containing 3 keywords; for example, "get the spoon and the big cup".

Plays imaginative games such as pretending a block is a phone.

Takes an interest in other children's play and sometimes join in.

Takes an interest in playing with words; for example, rhyming words.

Is starting to recognise a few letters.

Is understood by unfamiliar adults most of the time; for example, the librarian or relatives they don't see often.

What are some tips to help my child's communication development at 3 years?

  • give your child plenty of time to speak
  • focus on what they are saying, not how they are saying it
  • have fun reading books – talk about the story and characters and make it exciting
  • point to keywords in books as you read
  • involve your child with lots of everyday routines – talk about what you're doing and introduce new words; for example, "sweeping" when sweeping the floor
  • add extra words to your child's sentences; if they  say "my car", you could say "that's right, it's a big car"

If you would like to look at anything in more detail, this list of references might be a good starting point.


The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from Much more than words | Manuka takoto, kawea ake (2014).

This page last reviewed 08 December 2023.

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