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. 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?

  • 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'
  • 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
  • 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
  • be starting to recognise a few letters
  • be 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 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"

If you would like to look at anything in more detail, this listing 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) (PDF, 565KB)

This page last reviewed 17 November 2020.
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