3 at 3

In October, I took a break from normal development to discuss something that is now proven to cause harm to a developing brain: screen time. This month, I’d like to get back to our developmental trajectory by looking at what to expect a three-year-old child to be saying.

The adage “3 at 3” is appropriate to refer to what to expect three-year olds to say. It’s a little different, however, from “2 at 2”. Using two-word phrases at two years old is the expectation for the average, typically developing toddler. However, children’s language growth is exponential. At three years old, three-word sentences are now a bare minimum expectation. 

The quality and content of what children are saying at three years old is also different. What they say is a little more “unpacked”, more complex, such that they are using grammatical words and adjectives in their speech, not just nouns and verbs. For example, a toddler may say “mama up”, whereas a preschooler now says, “want up mama”, “me up mama”, or “up mama please”. Many readers are probably thinking “my kid could say that at two!”. And you know what? It’s not uncommon at all to have toddlers speak this way and not uncommon to have preschoolers talk in four-word, five-word, and even longer sentences. When professionals talk about milestones, we talk about averages and minimums. There’s a whole half of children that are higher than average.

The complexity of what children say as they grow is in tandem with the growth in their thinking skills, self-awareness and experiences. Preschoolers begin to use pronouns to refer to themselves and others, such as “me want nuggies” or “her hat on”. They begin to talk about things in the past by conjugating verbs, too (“I ranned away!”). The mistakes they make are adorable and perfectly normal! 

In the toddler and preschool years, it’s especially important to keep an eye on speech and language development. Children will be entering school soon, where they are expected to be independent in their communication abilities. As always, your Friendly Neighborhood Speech Pathologist is here to help!  


Mohamed (Mo) Oshalla, MHSc.,
Speech-Language Pathologist & Executive Director,
Ontario Speech & Language Services


Questions? Comments? Contact us today!

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

News Letter