Communication development: By 3 years

Communication development: By 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. Involve your child with lots of everyday routines – talk about what you're doing.

Here is some information about how children's communication skills usually develop by the age of 3. We have included some suggestions of activities to encourage communication at each age (tips). Use the language that you are most familiar and comfortable with. 

By 3 years, most children...

  • understand instructions containing 3 key words; for example, "get the spoon and the big cup"
  • use a vocabulary of several hundred words, including describing words, such as 'fast' and 'small'
  • can combine 3 or more words into a sentence; for example, "What's daddy doing?"
  • play imaginative games; for example, pretending a block is a phone
  • can talk about things that are not present 
  • take an interest in other children's play and sometimes join in 
  • take an interest in playing with words; for example, rhyming words
  • are starting to recognise a few letters
  • can be understood by unfamiliar adults most of the time; for example, the librarian or relatives they don't see often

Tips

  • 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 key words in the text 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; for example, if he says "my car", you could say "that's right – it's a big car"

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) (PDF, 565KB)

This page last reviewed 19 February 2018.
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