3 years - school age

A young girl smiling 3 years

At 3 years your child will be starting to...

  • Use about 500 to 700 words
  • Enjoy make-believe play, e.g. dressing-up
  • Follow longer instructions with three key words e.g., ‘find the cup and put it in Kim’s bag’
  • Use sentences of around 4 or more words
  • Use little grammar words like ‘I, me, a, the,’ and putting ‘ed’ endings on doing words e.g., ‘We walked’’ but will use immature grammar sometimes e.g., ‘shutted’
  • Talk about things that happened in the past and what might happen in the future
  • Ask lots of ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions

Helpful hints

I love make-believe games and really enjoy it when you play these with me.
Say the words to me how you would say them. I can copy when I am ready but don’t get me to say them back to you now. If I say ‘I buyed the book’, say back to me ‘yes you bought the book’
Because my language is developing so much, I might start to stumble on some words. This is ok, just give me lots of time to talk and try not to draw attention to the stumbles.
I feel really good when you look at me when I am talking. It lets me know that what I am saying is important.
Read my favourite book to me over and over again. Encourage me to join in and say some of the words to ‘pretend read’.


A boy laughing4 years

At 4 years old, your child is likely to...

  • Use lots and lots of words – about 1000!
  • Seek out friends to play with
  • Understand words that describe things, like ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, ‘long’ and ‘short’
  • Use linking words in my sentences - e.g.,‘and’, ‘then’
  • Understand language that relates to time e.g., ‘yesterday’, ‘tomorrow’
  • Use basic grammar correctly but still make mistakes e.g., “Mummy, I goed to the park’
  • Need less and less adult help to shift attention from a game to someone speaking and back again
  • Use lots of speech sounds correctly but still find ‘th’, ‘r’, ‘ch’, ‘j’ and ‘l’ hard


Helpful hints

  • Sing nursery rhymes with me.
  • Games like ‘Simon Says’ or musical statues help my listening skills.
  • Make comments and tell me about what we are doing, it shows me that you are interested in what I say.
  • I really enjoy sharing books with you – especially ones with rhymes. When you have told me a story, ask me if I can tell it back to you.
  • Play board games with me – it really helps me to learn how to take turns.


A girl looking at the camera School age

This poster describes the stages of typical language development, with examples of what you might see and hear in a classroom or school environment. Language development in the primary years steadily builds on the solid foundations that are established during the early years. Children’s attention, listening, understanding, vocabulary, speech, grammar, storytelling and conversations all develop further in terms of skills, knowledge and complexity.

Children develop at different rates and this poster tells you what to expect at different ages. Although it is not an assessment, the information could help you identify children who are not developing language skills as expected.

Children with English as an additional language are at the same risk of speech, language and communication needs as any other child, however, this can be more difficult to identify.