Learning to talk: 3 to 5 years
Your child will soon be putting words together to form sentences and you can encourage them to chat by asking lots of questions.
Try to get into the habit of asking them to tell you about their day, whether that's on the way home from nursery or over dinner. Let them take the lead and enjoy what a little story teller they're becoming!
Video: Talk to each other when you're out and about
Watch dad talk to his daughter about what they see and hear on their journey to the park. He mimics the sounds of what he sees and gets his daughter to join in too.
Activities for your daily routine
Counting during mealtimes is an excellent way to teach your child about numbers.
To get started, cut the food into small pieces and count each item as you place them on your child's plate. Group similar foods together and let your child know what's on their plate and how many of each item there is.
Then, count everything as a total. For example, you could say, "You have two pieces of toast and three slices of apple. How many do you have in total?".
Don't worry if your child wants to try the food along the way. Cut some extra pieces so you have enough for the task.
Choose finger foods for counting
Choose foods that are solid and big enough for your child to pick up and count. Use your fingers to count visually and ask your child to count with you.
Prepare food together
If you’re baking or preparing food at home, get your child involved in the preparation. Let them help with counting and measuring the ingredients.
Interactive story time is a fun activity to do with your child. It helps them communicate, express themselves, and move around.
When you read a story next, try copying things from the book. For example, if the story talks about a tree, pretend to be a tree.
To act like a tree, lift your arms and move them like leaves in the wind. Make sure you have enough space for both you and your child to join in.
Set the scene
You could really bring the story to life through using audio. You could search for background music that reflects the story, for example the sounds of birds or rain.
Choose a book they know well
See if your child can fill in the gaps in parts of the story by telling you what happens next.
Out and about
Listen out for sounds and noises when you're walking or travelling together.
If something takes your child's interest, ask them to explain what they can hear and see.
You could ask questions like "is it a loud sound?" or "have you heard it before?".
To make the task more fun, ask your child to copy the noise to see if they can recreate it.
Later on, you can ask them again what they saw and heard.
Help your child to focus
At this age, your child may be paying attention to many things at once. To help them listen, try using phrases like "Please stop, it's time to listen".
Create a story about sounds
You could get creative and make up a story together about the noisy bus you got on earlier or the baby you saw in the park.
Video: Read and talk about books together
Watch mum being led by the child’s book interests during reading time. She reads familiar books so her son can anticipate what’s coming next.
Little tips for everyday play
Make daily routines fun
- start conversations by asking questions with lots of possible answers, for example, "What is your favourite toy?" and "What do you want to do tomorrow?"
- encourage them to problem solve, for example "Your favourite hat is missing, what shall we do?"
- when you're looking at picture books together, ask your child if they remember what happens or if they can guess what happens next
Use music and sounds
- chat about words that start with the same sound, for instance, words beginning with "p"
- think of as many rhyming words as you can for different objects you can see
Play pretend games
- try role-playing games together, like shopping – set items out on the sofa, give your child a bag and some pretend money, and take it in turns to be the shopkeeper
- play a make-believe journey like going into space – make a rocket out of a cardboard box you decorate together, or cushions, and pile in a few toy passengers
- start a simple game with your child by making up a story together about their favourite toy going to the beach and encourage your child to take the lead
- play "I spy!"
- a fun way to help your child listen and learn new words is to create an obstacle course with blankets and cardboard boxes and set challenges like, "Crawl under the blanket" or "Sit in the box" – take it in turns so they can practise giving the instructions
Tiny Happy People on the BBC website has fun activity inspiration to help your child learn to talk, play and sing.
Libraries are a free way to access age appropriate books. Some also run story time sessions for parents and their children. Find your local library service on gov.uk.
Your local council may offer activities too. Find learning activities for your child on gov.uk.
Family hubs offer support to children, young people and their families. They provide a single place to go for support and information from a variety of organisations, making it easier to get the support you need.
They can provide guidance on issues such as feeding your baby or toddler, mental health and parenting support.
Family Hubs are currently operating in 75 local authorities across England.
How to help their speech development
- use things your child is interested in for play, follow their lead and make sure you're physically at their level while playing
- if you notice your child looking or pointing at something, talk to them about it before they lose interest in it
- picture books introduce your child to new things they haven't seen yet in real life – ask them to tell you the story, or talk about what the characters might be thinking and feeling
- make reading, singing and playing even more fun by using lots of actions and different voices
- take turns to make noises or speak – your child will be able to hold longer conversations, so slow down your speech, give them plenty of time to respond and listen carefully to what they have to say
- talk to your child in short, simple sentences, as it's easier for them to understand you and have a go at copying when they are ready
- try to use the same book or sing the same song, as young children learn a lot from repetition
Learning more than 1 language
It's important to talk to your child in the language or languages you use.
A child learning more than 1 language should babble and say their first words in the same way as a child learning one language.
It is important not to confuse this slight delay with language difficulties – most children quickly catch up.
For more help on languages, have a look at the parent's questions on the National Literacy Trust website.
Help and advice
If your child is in nursery, the nursery will continue to review their development. When your child goes to school, your health visitor will inform the school nursing team about any extra support they're having.
If your child needs extra support, your health visitor or the school nurse can help. They may put you in touch with a speech and language therapist and you may also be offered support.
Ask your health visitor for support whenever you need it, they will be able to provide tips and advice.
Remember, children learn to talk at different ages. If you are worried, speak to your health visitor or nursery key worker. Or contact your local speech and language therapy service for advice.
For more ideas on how you can help your child, visit: