Three-Year-Old Milestones

Three year old Milestone

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One, two, THREE!

As part of our speech and language milestone series, we’d love to highlight a few ways to support your three-year-old’s speech and language development.

1. Intelligibility (i.e. how much speech you can understand)

A 3-year-old should be approximately 75% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. This means that you can understand about 75% of what your child says. This can be difficult for parents to assess because parents typically understand most (if not all) of what their child says. Asking a grandparent, friend or teacher may be beneficial when it comes to understanding how intelligible your child is. 

If you notice that your child speaks fast or seems to combine words together, working on your child’s rate of speech can be helpful. If your child does not yet understand fast vs. slow, you can use animals to teach these concepts. For example, talking about how cheetahs and bunnies run fast while turtles and snails move slowly. Modeling a slower rate of speech can be very helpful for children this age. Also, be mindful of interruptions and giving your child plenty of time to respond. 

If your child continues to omit the final consonant of words (e.g. pi/pig, ho/hot, foo/food) or has trouble with the following consonant sounds (m, p, b, t, d, n, h, w, k, g, f), please consult a pediatric speech pathologist as your child may benefit from speech and language therapy. 

2. Answering questions (who, what, where, why)

At this age, we typically expect children to answer more complex questions. These include “who, where, why” as well as “how.” Visual support, such as pictures, can be beneficial when trying to answer more complex questions. You can ask your child questions while you read picture books. If your child struggles to answer the question, you may give him/her two choices. For example, if the question is, “Where do you buy food?”, you may present the following choices, “At the grocery store or at the library?” You can also ask these questions when you recap your day. If you take pictures on your phone, you may want to use these pictures for additional support. As you start to work on answering more complex questions, pay attention to which question types are the most difficult. It can be helpful to work on one type of question at a time.

3. Sentences

Three-year-olds should be communicating using sentences. At this age, a child with typically developing language will use around 1,000 words. If your child is combining two words, try expanding what your child says by adding one or two words. For example, if he says “want cookie” you may model, “I want cookie. I want cookie please.” Children’s grammatical skills should also be developing at this age. For example, if your child is not yet applying the rule for regular plural -s, it may be helpful to model the words in a structured activity. Exaggerating the sound at the end of the word can also help!

4. Receptive language

You can improve your child’s receptive language skills by playing games that involve following directions. Try to incorporate new concepts when possible. For example, you may want to try adding spatial concepts such as “between” or “next to.” You can also continue to improve your child’s receptive language by reading new books about different topics. My daughter loves to read the same books over and over. While the repetition is beneficial, reading new books gives exposure to new words! A strategy that has worked well for us at bedtime is that we read one new book and one old book. Activities that involve sequencing are also great for developing receptive language. 

5. Social Language

Promoting social language skills during the Coronavirus pandemic can be more difficult than usual but it is possible! Scheduling play dates via FaceTime/Skype or having a picnic outside (where you practice social distancing) are great options for any age. Since most 3-year-olds are engaging in associative play, you can find toys that both children have and have them play with the toys at the same time. Perhaps each child brings his/her own wooden blocks, Legos or playdough. Remember, associative play means that children play the same game but they do not work together or connect with one another. A child may be interested in other people playing but they do not coordinate with others. You can encourage your child to interact verbally by commenting and asking questions.   

If you have any specific questions about your child’s speech and language development, please reach out for a free phone consultation with an experienced therapist or complete our therapist match survey via the link below!