Talking to your child between 3 and 5 years old

Your child's speech and language will become more advanced between the ages of 3 and 5. Their increased attention span means they can listen to longer stories and recall them. This develops their language to play ‘pretend’.

The tips from the previous section will continue to be useful. You can also help your preschooler’s speech and language development with the following ideas.

Talk about the past and future

Your child will start referring to past and future events. This encourages the use of longer sentences, past tense and expressing opinions. Using photos is a great way to talk about past events, or even what happened that day. Talk about the pictures to model language, for example say, ‘You went on the slide!’ or, ‘We saw a pig’. Use open question words, such as what, where, when and why. For example: ‘What did we see in the field yesterday?’ or ‘Where shall we go tomorrow?’

You can always ask a question with some choices if they struggle to answer. For example: ‘Was it a big brown cow or a little squealy pig?’ or ‘When shall we go, morning or afternoon?’

Play listening games

Games are great ways to develop your child’s listening and language skills. Some ideas of what to play are:

  • Simon Says: give a command which your child should follow if you say the term ‘Simon Says’. Take turns so your child gets to be in charge too!
  • Tray Game: place a few everyday items on a tray, name them aloud and cover them, to see if your child remembers what is under the cover.
  • Treasure hunt: hide some objects around the room and use spoken clues to help your child find them. Use gentle commands like ‘Move 5 steps forward,’ ‘Look up high on the sofa,’ and ‘Try under the blanket.’ It may help to create a simple list where they can tick off the items they have already found.

Learning opposites

Help your child understand opposites as they experience them in everyday situations. For example, ‘The ice cream is cold’, ‘The water from the tap is hot’, or ‘The toy box is empty, and now it’s full!’ Your child will need to experience these in lots of different situations before they start using these words.

Cook and bake together

Reading recipes out loud can help your preschooler learn how to follow directions. Cooking and baking together will also help your child learn about measurements, numbers, colours and textures.

Correct mistakes using examples

As your child’s language improves, they will probably make mistakes and muddle their words. Rather than telling them they are wrong, model the correct language. For example, if your child says ‘I stooded on the chair,’ respond with ‘Yes, you stood on the chair.’

Build the ability to ‘sequence’

Start by sharing a picture book together and ask your child to retell the story. Ask questions like ‘What happened first?’, ‘Then what happened?’, and ‘How did the story end?’ You can build their sequence skills by teaching them key words, such as ‘First, put on your T-shirt’, ‘Next, put on your trousers’, and ‘Last, put on your hat.’