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Is my 3-year-old normal?

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Communication Milestones for 3-year-olds

I love 3-year-olds! At the risk of showing my bias, this is my all-time favourite age. By now, your gorgeous baby has grown, passed through toddlerhood and is becoming an independent thinker and planner. They have so many ideas they’re keen to try out, but they are now also developing the ability to talk and reason with you, communicating their ideas. This is the stage that your little person becomes verbally inquisitive and attached to the infamous ‘why’ question. These questions are fun to explore, although somewhat exhausting at times. If you find yourself plagued by your preschooler’s questions, a little tip is to turn them around and ask for their opinion and thoughts.

This checklist will put your mind at rest and help you recognise when that special small person in your life may need some extra support from a speech pathologist.

We will consider typical milestones across the following elements of communication:

  • Speech: the sounds your child is making and how they are putting them together to make words

  • Vocabulary: the words your child understands and uses, and how they store them

  • Receptive Language or Comprehension: how your child understands and responds to language

  • Expressive Language: the way your child expresses themselves through words and sentences. It includes how they use language and gestures to think and convey their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

  • Phonological Awareness: how they understand and interpret sounds which leads to literacy

  • Play and Cognitive Skills: which provide communication opportunities and help your child to develop language for thinking, reasoning and problem-solving

By 3-years, your child should be:


  • Speaking relatively clearly with a small number of persistent speech error patterns

  • Easily understood 50% - 75% of the time

  • Sometimes ‘bumpy’ talking can develop. If this period of stuttering doesn’t resolve within a few weeks, please prioritise a chat with a speech pathologist.


  • Rapidly expanding their vocabulary to around 1,000 words

  • Learning new words every week

  • Using a variety of words for names, actions, locations, descriptions

Receptive Language

  • Following more complex 2-3 -step instructions,

  • Answering ‘wh’ questions like where, when, who, what, why

  • Identifying parts of objects, e.g. wheels, steering wheel, door, engine or tail, legs, ears, snout etc

  • Answering questions about the function of objects e.g. What is a knife for? Why do we need shoes?

  • Understanding the concept of ‘same’ and ‘different’

  • Answering simple questions about their day

  • Sorting objects into groups when asked to, e.g. toys, food, cars

  • Recognising basic colours

Expressive Language

  • Talking in sentences up to 5 words in length

  • Using words like ‘and’ or ‘because’

  • Using pronouns they, us, hers, his, them, her

  • Using -ing on the end of words

  • Talking about something in the past

  • Asking questions like what, who, where

  • Describing what just happened

  • Reciting some nursery rhymes

  • Counting to at least 5

  • Naming colours

  • Expresses feelings and ideas

  • Having conversations with adults, but not necessarily staying on topic

Phonological Awareness

  • Developing humour

  • Playing around with sounds

  • Enjoying rhymes

  • Beginning to pick words that start with the same sound

  • Recognising logos (e.g. McDonalds)

  • Showing a difference between writing and drawing - making squiggles to represent letters

  • Talks about characters in books

  • Likes to “read” to self and others

Play and Cognitive Skills

  • Playing house

  • Beginning acting out whole scenes in dramatic play

  • Sorting objects by colour

  • Playing with other children

  • Taking turns

  • Sharing

  • Practising conversations by talking to themselves

  • Shows signs of frustration if not understood

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting these early communication milestones, it is the right time to see a speech pathologist. It is always best to seek help early and never take a ‘wait and see’ approach.

A speech pathologist will be able to assess your child’s communication skills and give you advice and strategies to encourage your child’s development.

At Newcastle Speech Pathology, we are passionate about helping children develop their communication skills and supporting their families because clear communication unlocks opportunities. Contact us to see how we can help you and your child.


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