Persists with a wider variety of tasks, activities, and experiences. Keeps working to complete a task even if it is moderately difficult (e.g., persists with a somewhat challenging wooden puzzle).
Expands abilities to independently complete a range of self-help skills (e.g., feeding, undressing, grooming). May refuse adult assistance (e.g., tries over and over to pull on a sweater and pushes mom's hands away when she tries to help).
Continues to seek and engage in sensory and other experiences (e.g., listens to stories, plays with friends, takes trips to the fire station).
Continues to ask numerous questions, which are becoming more verbally complex (e.g., asks, "How we get to Nana's house?").
Seeks out new challenges (e.g., tries to dress a doll or put together a new construction toy).
Continues to become more flexible in problem-solving and thinking through alternatives (e.g., when trying to put on shoes, talks to self about what to do first. If the shoe won't easily go on one foot, he or she tries the other foot.).
Increasingly able to ask for help on challenging tasks (e.g., says, "Can you put Teddy's pants on?").
Thinks more systematically. Benefits from conversations with adults and peers, as well as physical investigation.
Grows in ability to sustain pretend play with other children (e.g., plays in pretend kitchen with friend, serving "cookies"). Takes on familiar roles (e.g., mom or dad) in pretend play.
Plays creatively with both language and objects. Expresses inventive ideas in an expanding set of situations (e.g., creates interesting scenes with small plastic animals; strings nonsense words together, "Mommy, nommy, sommy, tommy").
Language for three-year-olds is taking off. They learn lots of new words and make major improvements in pronunciation. They communicate in simple sentences and are refining their use of grammar. Three-year-olds are also better able to listen to and understand conversations, stories, songs and poems. They are beginning to initiate conversations, want to talk about areas of personal interest, and need some prompting to relate a complete and coherent personal experience.
Receptive Vocabulary (words recognized when heard or seen)
At 36 months, understands 1000 or more words. Acquires an average of 1500 to 2000 words during this year.
The average child has the capacity to acquire four to six words per day, given access to new words in his or her daily experiences.
Continues to learn words when adults name objects, and increases ability to infer word meanings from context. Many new words are also learned through new experiences and from hearing picture books read aloud.
Continues to increase their vocabularies for nouns (names of things, such as common objects and familiar people), pronouns, action words, descriptive words, quantifiers, location words, and question words. Also, has a major vocabulary increase in connecting words (e.g., and, because, but, if).
Other categories of vocabulary growth include number words, emotional state words (e.g., sad, happy, angry, mad, excited, frightened), common category names (e.g., toys, furniture, clothes, fruits, animals) and common family member names (e.g., mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, sister, brother).
Shows an increased ability to listen to and understand conversations, stories, songs and poems.
Follows multi-step directions involving familiar objects, actions and routines, including those that are sequential but not related (e.g., "Take your coats off and hang them in your cubbies and then go sit on the rug for story time." "Jason, take Katie's hand and go stand by the door." "Pick up these cylinder blocks, and then put the dolls back in their beds.").
Understands explanations when concrete objects and actions support the verbal explanation, and phenomena are directly observable (e.g., "When we mix colors, we get a new color. See what color you get when you mix yellow with blue.").
Perception of speech sounds that aren't used in native language continues to decrease. Exposure to a second or a third language helps children to continue to perceive a wider range of speech sounds, making learning a second language easier.
Identifies vocal changes when someone is reading and talking (e.g., When someone is reading a book, the child can tell if the person is reading the text of the book or talking about pictures in the book.).
From age three on, it is difficult to measure actual productive vocabulary, but the number of words that children understand is always larger than the number of words they actually use. As children understand more words, there will be changes in the nature of the words children use for speaking and writing.
Continues to over- and under-extend the meanings of words (e.g., a child calls a cow "horsie"), but to a lesser degree for fairly common items. For example, a child unfamiliar with a wheelbarrow may call it "wagon" given that both have a cavity, a handle and wheels.
Makes major improvements in pronunciation. While some children may continue to have some difficulty, most are easily understood by adults who are not familiar with them.
Begins to initiate conversations. Uses "Guess what?" or "You know what?"
Typically does not interrupt current speaker, but has difficulty in waiting for a turn in a group conversation. Wants to speak after each speaker regardless.
Tends to use turn to relate information of personal interest regardless of topic established by peers or adults.
May have trouble talking with someone on the phone because the topics of questions asked are often not related to the "here and now."
American Academy of Pediatrics
Makes mechanical toys work1
Matches an object in her hand or room to a picture in a book1
Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people1
Sorts objects by shape and color1
Completes puzzles with three or four pieces1
Understands concept of "two"1
Follows a two- or three-part command1
Recognizes and identifies almost all common objects and pictures1
Understands placement in space ("on," "in," "under")1
Understands most sentences (any outcome, depending on context)1
Uses 4- to 5-word sentences (any outcome, depending on context)1
Can say name, age, and sex1
Strangers can understand most of her words (any outcome, depending on context)1
Uses pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats) 1
Examines with attention to detail, noticing attributes of objects; e.g. points out stripes on caterpillar; notices it gets darker when the sun goes behind a cloud; points out changes in animals or plants in room (I)2
Finds multiple uses for classroom objects; e.g. uses wooden blocks as musical instruments; strings wooden beads into necklace for dress-up (I)2
Sees simple tasks through to completion; e.g. puts toys away before going on to next activity; completes 5-piece puzzle (I)2
Notices and comments on effect; e.g. while shaking a jar of water says, “Look at the bubbles when I do this” (I)2
Draws on everyday experiences and applies this knowledge to similar situations; e.g. washes hands after playing at sand table; rocks baby doll in arms (I)2
Sorts objects by one property such as size, shape, color, or use; e.g. sorts pebbles into three buckets by color; puts square block with other square blocks (I)2
Notices similarities and differences; e.g. states, “The rose is the only flower in our garden that smells”; “I can run fast in my new shoes” (I)2
Notices when one object in a series is out of place; e.g. removes the one measuring spoon out of place in a line and tries to put it in right place (I)2
Notices and recreates simple patterns with objects; e.g. makes a row of blocks alternating in size (big-small-big-small); strings beads in repeating patterns of 2 colors (I)2
Demonstrates understanding of the present and may refer to past and future; e.g. responds appropriately when asked, “What did you do this morning?”; talks about, “Later, when Mom comes to pick me up.” (I)2
Shows comprehension of basic positional words and concepts; e.g. puts object in, on, under, on top of, or next to another object as requested (I)2
Matches pairs of objects in one-to-one correspondence; e.g. searches through dress-ups to find two shoes for her feet (I)2
Imitates counting behavior using number names (may not always say one number per item or get the sequence right); e.g. says the numbers from 1 to 5 while moving finger along a row of 8 items (not realizing that counting means one number per item) (I)2
Performs and labels actions associated with a role; e.g. feeding the baby doll, says, “I’m the Mommy”; picks up phone and says, “Hello, is Suzie there?” (I)2
Interacts appropriately with real objects or replicas in pretend play; e.g. uses a broken phone to make a pretend phone call; puts play dough cookies on little plastic plates (I)2
Draws or constructs and then names what it is; e.g. draws pictures with different shapes and says, “This is my house”; lines up unit blocks and says, “I’m making a road” (I)2
Plays with words, sounds, and rhymes; e.g. repeats songs, rhymes, and chants (I)2
Follows one-step directions; e.g. “Please get a tissue” (I)2
Answers simple questions with one or two words; e.g. can answer when asked for name; when asked the colors of paint can answer “purple and blue” (I)2
Asks simple questions; e.g. “What’s for lunch?”, “Can we play outside today?” (I)2
Responds to comments and questions from others; e.g. when one child says, “I have new shoes” shows own shoes and says, “Look at my new shoes” (I)2
Listens to stories being read; e.g. asks teacher to read favorite story; repeats refrain when familiar book is read aloud (I)2
Knows that print carries the message; e.g. points to printed label on shelf and says, “Cars go here”; looking at the name the teacher has written on another child’s drawing, says, “Whose is this?” (I)2
Recognizes and identifies a few letters by name; e.g. points to a cereal box and says, “That’s C like in my name” (I)2
Uses illustrations to guess what the text says; e.g. looking at The Three Pigs, says, “And the wolf blew down the pig’s house” (I)2
Imitates act of reading in play; e.g. holds up book and pretends to read to baby doll; takes out phonebook in dramatic play area to make a phone call (I)2
Imitates act of writing in play; e.g. pretends to write a prescription while playing clinic; scribble writes next to a picture
Uses scribble writing and letter-like forms (I)2
Answers questions—with more than yes or no; can answer what, where and who, but usually not why (24-36 mo)3
Formulates negative reasoning—understands no or not; e.g. no more, that’s not yours (24-36 mo)3
Uses size words—at least one e.g. big, little (25-30 mo)3
Gives one out of many (25-30 mo)3
Matches colors—black, white – when shown a black or white object, identifies another exact one – two choices (26-29 mo)3
Matches shapes—when shown circle, triangle or square shape, identifies another shape which matches the model – two shapes available (26-30 mo)3
Knows own sex or sex of others—responds correctly when asked if boy or girl (26-33 mo)3
Matches identical simple pictures of objects—matches a picture with another exact one –two choices (27-30 mo)3
Listens to stories—e.g. repeats words/phrases from story or displays facial gestures indicating interest and understanding (27-30 mo)3
Understands many action verbs—at least 10; points, names, or demonstrates (27-30 mo)3
Uses plurals—may use incorrectly e.g. foots or feets (27-36 mo)3
Refers to self using pronoun—“I” or “me”; may not be grammatically correct; e.g. “I want juice” (27-40 mo)3
Verbalizes one preposition—to indicate location, e.g. in, out, on, off (28-33 mo)3
Identifies objects with their use—e.g. shoe, cup, spoon; when asked ‘what do we drink out of? Wear on our feet? Etc. (28-34 mo)3
Identifies body parts with their function—ask e.g. what do we see with? Hear with? Points or names at least one body part (28-34 mo)3
Frustrated if not understood –utterances have communicative intent (28.5-36 mo)3
Matches primary colors—when shown a blue, red, or yellow object, identifies another object of the same color – three to choose from (29-33 mo)3
Names eight or more pictures--(30-33 mo): Understands more adjectives—e.g. hot, dirty, wet, dry, one, many; at least 8 (29-36 mo)3
Vocalizes for all needs—effectively not relying on gestures or whining (also 3) (30-31.5 mo)3
Gives full name on request (30-33 mo)3
Points to six body parts on pictures of a doll (30-36 mo)3
Matches similar pictures of objects – e.g. a German Shepard dog to picture of Collie (30-36 mo)3
Sorts shapes – circles, triangle, square – sorts a pile of shapes into three piles according to shape (30-36 mo)3
Understands concept of two—gives or takes ‘two’ from a group (30-36 mo)3
Stacks rings in correct order (30-36 mo)3
Points to larger or smaller of two objects (30-36 mo)3
Plays house—assigns roles to others; uses more than 3 props (some abstract or imaginary) (30-36 mo)3
Participates in storytelling—helps tell a favorite story by adding words; making comments and anticipating events (30-36 mo)3
Completes three-four piece puzzle—of a familiar object (30-36 mo)3
Over regulates and systematizes plurals and verbs –e.g. “I doed it”, “I eated the cookie” (30-36 mo)3
Uses most basic grammatical structures—e.g. statements, commands, negatives, questions, plurals, possessives, past tense, verbs, etc. May have some errors (30-36 mo)3
Knows proper place for own things—e.g. on request can find or put away sweater, toy, brush (30-36 mo)3
Uses expressive vocabulary of 200+ words (30.5-35 mo)3
Sorts colors and points to several colors when named – separates a pile of three different colored similar objects into three groups according to color (33+ mo)3
Identifies longer stick (at least 2 inches longer) (33+ mo)3
Verbalizes two prepositions; to indicate location e.g. in out, on, off (33-35.5 mo)3
Begins to pick longer of two lines (4” line vs. 6” line) (33-36 mo)3
Begins to respond to opposite analogies—says opposite when word is presented e.g. fire is hot, ice is _____; at least two of three opposite analogies (33-36 mo)3
Understands all common verbs, most common adjectives, some prepositions—also, various very tenses, e.g. eat, eating, ate; warm vs. hot; some abstract terms e.g. scary (33-36 mo)3
Repeats five word sentences—in imitation or spontaneous (33.5-36 mo)3
Relates experience more frequently using short sentences (same as earlier but now regularly and about past, present and near future) (34+ mo)3
Asks questions beginning with what, where, when—to seek information, initiate or maintain a conversation, e.g. What’s that? Where is baby? When see daddy? 1 (also 1?) (34.5+ mo)3
Uses expressive vocabulary of 300-1000 words (35 mo)3
Verbalizes three prepositions—to indicate location e.g. in, out, off, under (35.5 mo)3
Finds hidden sound from directly above and behind (36 mo)3
University of Maryland
Has a vocabulary of many hundreds of words
Composes sentences of 3 to 4 words
Frequently asks questions
Has longer attention span
At age 3, nearly all of a child's speech should be understandable
University of Michigan, Developmental Milestones by the End of 3 Years:
Makes vertical, horizontal and circular strokes with pencil or crayon
Turns book pages one at a time
Holds a pencil in writing position
Follows a two- or three-component command
Recognizes and identifies almost all common objects and pictures