Typical Language Development for Your Three-Year-Old

This week I was working with a child turning three soon and the mom asked me what was typical language development for a three-year old?  I shared the following with her.

By 3 years of age your child is likely to:

  • Be around 80% intelligible, still substituting and distorting some later developing consonants such as th, ch, sh, j, f, v, l, s and r
  • Understand about 900 words
  • Understand what it means to do something “later”
  • Listen to a 20 minute story
  • Understand the prepositions “in”, “on” and “under” and will follow directions using those words.
  • Follow a 3 step direction such as, “Get your shoes, put them on and come to the table.”
  • Answer simple “Who?” “Why?” “Where?” and “How Many?” questions
  •  Ask simple questions such as, “What’s that?”
  • Ask lots of questions to gain information as well as your attention!
  • Use “is” as in “The boy is running” and “The ball is blue”.
  • Use 4-5 word sentences, containing a number of grammatical errors
  • Use the pronouns “I, me, you and mine”
  • Describe interesting experiences in his recent past
  • Initiate a conversation starting with, “Hey Mommy or listen Mommy” and give a monologue with details about something interesting to him
  • Use speech to comment, “I can’t find my truck”, as well as express feelings, “I can’t fix it.”

Play is an important vehicle for expanding your child’s language. Take a puppet or “little people” figure and “talk” to the one in your child’s hand. Carry on a pretend conversation using people, animals or little figures. At first your child might not respond, but carry on the conversation yourself and he will eventually enter in. Through your play conversations you will be modeling questions, using prepositions, introducing new vocabulary,  and narrating your play. 

I have posted an article today on strategies for encouraging your three-year-old’s language which should be helpful.



































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Great Books for Your Baby

At around 3 months of age, babies can see most colors and are interested in looking at a book just like a toy. Bright colors against a contrasting background (especially white) attract their attention. Throw in a good dose of rhythm, rhyme and beat and you will fascinate them with your reading. Here are a few of my favorites to start out your library:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? By Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. I haven’t met a 3 month old who hasn’t listened intently to these stories, examining the bright colorful collages of each animal as I flipped the page.

Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti. This big peek-a-boo book reveals the sound and inviting face of each barnyard animal as you turn down the flap.

Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen. The simple text and pictures grab your baby’s attention as bees buzz, birds sing and monkeys play. But, keep your eyes and ears open for a surprise visit by the butterfly finger puppet delivering a kiss and perhaps a tickle.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. This is a wonderful bedtime tale of a little one and his parent declaring the immensity of their love for one another. The endearing illustrations tell the story too.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Rosemary Wells. Sing the lines of this nursery rhyme as you page through the heart-warming illustrations of a little bunny preparing for bed—bathing, getting on pajamas, having some warm milk and even gazing at the stars before hopping in bed.

Baby Talk by DK. We know that babies like to look at baby faces so play peek-a-boo with this book, revealing darling wee ones narrating the action with “yum, yum,” “hee, hee,” and “boo hoo.”

Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton. Things are going well when the cow says “moo” and the sheep says “baa” but who said pigs can sing “la la la?” Sandra Boynton’s books have all the requisite beat, rhythm and rhyme to keep your baby’s interest.

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy Books. Here’s a soft book with lots of textures, wings to flip and legs to crawl. The text has some spunk too.

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Top Preschool Books to Stimulate Language

Here are some of my favorites, old and new for your preschooler to encourage language through a great story:

 The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens. Check out my review. Kids love this book for the zany antics of the prairie dogs with their fuzz and the wild vocabulary and comical alliteration.

 Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume. This is a new book with a clever story about being different, discrimination, and grace.  There is lots to talk about as you encourage your child to predict what will happen, talk about feelings, solutions, and how to react to someone who is different.

 Amos and Boris by William Steig. This is a clever book about adventure, rescue, friendship, and sacrifice. It is packed with good vocabulary.  Try other books by this author.

 Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco. This isn’t just another Halloween book, but a clever story of competition, courage and finally friendship. The illustrations are magnificent with their detail and action. Lots of predictions can be made based on these beautiful drawings.

 Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andrede and Russel Ayto. This is every little boy’s dream, to uncover a pirate captain in a closet and set sail with him. Of course they encounter the ferocious pirate dinosaurs and a battle ensues. The illustrator has created beasts with “tonsils wobbling ferociously at the back of his throat” who have a whimsy about them who draw us in to a tale created in a little boy’s mind. Talk about what you would do if you met a pirate in the closet?

 I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe is a lovely tale about self-esteem, listening to criticism, acceptance While the little cricket was wishing he was a butterfly, after the frog at the edge of the pond told him he was ugly, the ladybug wisely replies, “…you must learn to be content with what you are and not mind what a silly old frog tells you.”  Friendship finally brings acceptance. There are many themes to talk about with your child after reading this story that relate to her life—teasing, feelings, self-worth, friendship and acceptance.

 The Featherless Chicken by Chih-Yuan Chen. In this playful tale, a featherless chicken is trying to part of the gang of artfully adorned chickens. Finally when he acquires a costume of leaves, silverware and a fish can, he looks good enough to join the others. This is another story about fitting in, being transparent and having a roaring good time!After reading this book, it would be fun to make a collage costume for your own featherless chicken.

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She was Extinct by Mo Willems. Loveable Edwina meets her match with the incorrigible Reginald who is trying to convince her she is extinct. This story is about winning over a bully with kindness. Talk about ways to show kindness to those who are nice and not nice to us. 

Chuck Lends a Paw and Funny Bunnies on the Run by Robert Quakenbush are full of  laugh-aloud consequences for the antics of bunnies and mice. You can use these books to ask questions like “Why did that happen?” since there is a reason for all the catastrophes in the stories! These are early readers but can also be used as read-alouds.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

Reading Tips for Toddlers

Today I had a “play on words” session with a 14 month-old and his mom and dad. I really like it when dads join the session because they ask great, thoughtful questions.

 We were talking about good books with a simple story line, exciting illustrations and flaps to keep a mobile toddler interested. I had shown Maisy Takes a Bath because it goes through the familiar routine of the evening bath. Dad asked if his son could relate his own bathtub to the one in the story. Good question.

It is a little early to make these connections although it is just the right time for Dad to make that link when he is talking about the book. Point to the tub in the book and say, “Hey, Maisy has a big white bathbub like yours. Your tub is upstairs. You even have a duck floating in your tub, just like Maisy. Making book-to-life and life-to book comments links books to your child’s experience and real world and back again.  Soon you might be reading about a duck and your toddler will jump off your lap to retrieve his duck. When he is 3 or 4 years old, he might have an experience at school or visiting the seashore and say, “Hey, that remkinds me of my story book!”








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How To Read to Your Baby

I spoke to a wonderful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital today, whose babies were between 6 weeks and 3 months. When I asked them if they were reading to their babies, all but one mom (slightly guilt-ridden, but determined to start reading tonight to her baby!) said they were reading books to their babies. Several mentioned Goodnight Moon as being one book that their child maintained interest in. The amazing thing about Goodnight Moon is that is includes all combinations of sounds in the English language so your baby is exposed to a variety of sounds in words.

One mom said her baby likes Fancy Nancy! Not your typical “baby book”, Fancy Nancy is a picture book designed for children from about 3-6 years of age. Fancy Nancy loves everything glittery and feathery and is trying to convince her family, who has quite plain taste, to come over to the fancy side. The fact that this mom’s little two-month-old girl likes listening to an older picture book shows that exposing your baby to good literature can be fruitful. I like my moms to think outside the box. Certainly read bright, board books designed for babies to your child, but try an engaging longer story with exciting illustrations, and see if your baby will sit for part or the entire story. 

Here are some questions that came up today:

·      Is it okay that I am reading Dr. Seuss to my baby when some of the words make no sense and are made up words?

Sure, Dr. Seuss books were originally designed to be used for first readers, using a controlled number of words so a child could master them. The beat, rhythm, rhyme and whimsy in these books attract a child’s attention and surely entertain the adult reading them (which is a factor not to be ignored!).

Reading a few Dr. Seuss books as part of your book repertoire is fine. Children are attracted to silly sounding words like “sneetches” and “Zax”and it shows them that listening and language are fun.

·      How can I read to my baby and hold him at the same time?

·      One mother shared that she reads to her baby every time she nurses him, using her free hand to hold the book. He is hearing the story but not seeing the pictures. Another mom shared that she sits down leaning back on the bed or a support and sits her baby in her lap facing out and looking at the book. I walked in on my son while he was reading to his son, lying on the floor, with the baby belly up on his stomach holding the book in front of his face. Little Will had the advantage of hearing the story from his dad’s mouth as well as through his body! I also offered the suggestion of laying your baby in her seat, sitting in front of her, holding the book, so she can see your face as well as the book as you read. Today some of the babies went back and forth between looking at the pictures on the page and my face as I read Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti.

·      Sometimes there are only a few words on the page so I just make up a story and don’t read the words. Is that okay?

Absolutely. As long as you are having an enjoyable experience with the book and feeding language to your baby it is beneficial. Certainly over time, babies love the repetition of a few books, giving them security, knowing what comes next. But, your child might like the illustrations on a certain page so you can linger and add more language to that page. Remember, this is to be a loving, positive experience so keep going as long as your child is interested and stop when his interest wanes.

·      My aunt gave my baby some old storybooks that I enjoyed as a child. Is it okay to read her these older stories like “Little Red Riding Hood”?

There is a generational benefit to reading stories that you enjoyed as a child and probably gives great pleasure to aunts and grandparents as they share stories linked to sweet memories of with their own children, now proud parents! This same effect can be seen with reading nursery rhymes. Although I am not a huge fan of some collections which include “cutting off their tail with a carving knife”, Parenting Magazine just did a review of a new collection minus these “creepy” old rhymes that is collected by Iona Ople and illustrated by one of my favorite children’s authors, Rosemary Wells, called Mother Goose’s Little Treasures.


































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Best Toddler Puzzles

I enjoy finding toys that  encourage a child’s language and then watch to see how kids interact with those toys. What toys encourage language development? Look for toys that have flexibility—ones that can be used in many different ways. They inspire your child to be creative and use his imagination.

 Something as simple as a puzzle should have more options than just placing pieces in the intended slot. “Chunky Puzzle Farm Animals”, “Safari Animals” and “Dinosaurs” by Melissa and Doug have thick enough pieces that the animals can “stand up”, move around, get a bite to eat or roam on the floor at a pretend zoo or farm. I hear far more language from a child as he pretends with the animals and lets them loose! I was working with a 2 year-old who loves the safari animals. He had them hiding “under” the table, “sliding” down the legs of the table, “nibbling” on some food and “swimming”. There is no end to the action your child can produce with the animals as you add a few props for pretend play like a barn or a truck to carry them.

 The “Vehicles” puzzle pieces include a three-car train, plane, bus, car, fire truck, ship and boat. The puzzle pieces can go for a sail on the sea, line up on the train track, fly overhead or race down the road with narrated sound effects. Now your child is naming the pieces as well as expanding his vocabulary through pretend play, using verbs, pronouns and prepositions.











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Baby Sign Language

Today when I was talking to a group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital, the topic of baby sign language came up–what did I think about it? Usually when I speak to a group, several moms are interested in teaching their babies to sign. Research has shown that teaching your baby to sign at an early age does not delay language development but rather enhances your child’s language aquisition. As a matter of fact, researchers at the University of California linked infant signs to a boost in IQ scores. They compared a group of 2nd graders who had learned sign language as babies with those who had not and discovered a 12 point gap in IQ scores between the two groups. As special educators, we have been successfully using sign language for a long time to bridge the gap between the time  a child wants to express himself and the time he can actually say words. Since manual dexterity precedes oral motor capabilities, a child can express himself first through gestures, thereby reducing frustration.  I always encourage parents and offer some tips. 

  1.  Make sure your spouse and other caregivers who spend the most time with your child are all on board and know the signs you are teaching your child. One of the purposes of teaching baby sign language is so in the interum, when your child isn’t using a lot of words, they can still communicate their wants and needs and be less frustrated while communicating.  If the caregiver or grandparent doesn’t understand the sign for “more” or “drink” that a child is using, then sign language is not fulfilling its purpose.
  1. Every child has words that will be more meaningful for them to learn the sign for. One little boy might love airplanes and would be gratified to be able to sign “airplane” every time one went overhead. Another child might love balls and feel confident when she can sign “ball”and have one appear. Choose a small number of signs to teach at first that are meaningful to your child. You can start whenever you want, signing as you say the word, but understand that most children don’t have the motor coordination to imitate the signs until they are about 9 months.
  2. If you are interested in teaching your baby to use sign language, you don’t need to purchase a lot of books and expensive programs. Helpful information is on the internet. www.signingtime.com is a good site with an interesting story. The mother was a professional musician when she discovered that her daughter was deaf. Out of her experience, she produced videos for hearing children to learn to use sign language. The videos include “My First Signs”, “Playtime Signs” and “Everyday Signs”. I have found that children enjoy watching these when they are older but they are also an excellent way for moms to learn signs too! www.signwithme.com is a helpful place to see the signs acted out on video. You can choose the signs that you want to begin to teach your baby and look them up there. www.signingbaby.com may also be a helpful resource. In addition , Baby Signs, How to Talk to Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, by Linda Acredolo, PhD and Susan Goodwyn, PhD. gives methods and explains the benefits of teaching your baby to sign.





Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Sign Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Toy Review: “Tiny Love Activity Ball” by Tiny Love

activity_ball_a05.jpgGive this lovable guy a push and he gladly rocks and rolls just out of reach so your baby chases after him, exploring and discovering his wobbly gait. Each nudge brings on one of 5 entertaining sounds to make your baby smile. The friendly face with bug eyes and dimples, two antennae just the right size for nibbling, a colorful neck to stretch, a handfull of colorful textured rings, butterflies and ladybugs to describe and beads moving to the action all qualify this as a great toy to encourage language development.

This Tiny Love Activity Ball has all the elements for stimulating language–lots to talk about concerning, color, texture, sounds and activity. Parents can describe the bright colors, patterns of stripes and polka dots, plenty of textures such as soft, hard, bumpy, and smooth and sounds that accompany movement whether rocking or yanking on his head and feet. Remember to follow your child’s focus of attention and describe what she thinks is interesting, not you! If she is chewing on the antennae or playing peek-a-boo with the ladybug, that is what you want to be talking about. Research shows that children take in more language when we are talking about what they are interested in. Isn’t that true of us adults too?

Buy Tiny Love Activity Ball now

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New Autism Screening Guidelines

I got a call yesterday from a mom who was interested in my reaction to the news release by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that pediatricians screen children for signs of autism at 18 and 24 months at well-visit checkups.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released the following on their website:

Two new clinical reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) will help pediatricians recognize autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) earlier and guide families to effective interventions, which will ultimately improve the lives of children with ASDs and their families. The first clinical report, “Identification and Evaluation of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders,” provides detailed information on signs and symptoms so pediatricians can recognize and assess ASDs in their patients. Language delays usually prompt parents to raise concerns to their child’s pediatrician – usually around 18 months of age. However, there are earlier subtle signs that if detected could lead to earlier diagnosis. These include:

not turning when the parent says the baby’s name;
not turning to look when the parent points says, “Look at…” and not pointing themselves to show parents an interesting object or event;
lack of back and forth babbling;
smiling late; and
failure to make eye contact with people.
Most children, at some time during early development, form attachments with a stuffed animal, special pillow or blanket. Children with ASDs may prefer hard items (ballpoint pens, flashlight, keys, action figures, etc.). They may insist on holding the object at all times.

The report advises pediatricians to be cognizant of signs of ASD, as well as other developmental concerns, at every well-child visit by simply asking the parents if they or their child’s other caregivers have any concerns about their child’s development or behavior. If concerns are present that may relate to ASD, the clinician is advised to use a standardized screening tool. The report also introduces universal screening, which means pediatricians conduct formal ASD screening on all children at 18 and 24 m

In addition, Autism Speaks, an organization that has had a tremendous impact on funding research for autism and communicating the signs to look for has an “autism video glossary” on its website, www.autismspeaks.org, that shows videos of typically developing children and those with autism at specific ages. This is very helpful for parents to see what these signs “look like” in the behavior of a child.

How do I feel about this news? I am thankful to the AAP for taking leadership in the area of early diagnosis. If all children are screened beginning at 18 months, I am sure there will be many more early detections of autism, and therefore better outcomes for our children. I know it is scary to moms and dads to think that they have to face such a screening but the potential positive effect is great.

In my many years working with three-year-olds with special needs at the Early Childhood Center in Fairfield, CT, I have had both experiences–of working with children who were diagnosed early, before their second birthday, and those who came to me without a diagnosis but showing obvious signs of autism at the age of three. I found it interesting to look back at their records from a year earlier, and many times regarding those diagnosed early, I hardly recognized the child described in the year-old reports because the child had made so much progress in that year between 2 and 3.

When I work with new moms and dads of typically developing children, beginning at 3 months to show them how to talk, read and play with their child to enhance language, I see children as young as 9 months where they have signs of autism and I have referred them for an evaluation. I do not make light the heaviness of such a diagnosis but early detection means early intervention and treatment and the opportunity to make real gains in speech, language and social skills.

Remember, you as the parent know your child the best. Use these tools and if you have concerns, talk with your pediatrician.

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Wanted: Toys with Language Value

Arriving at Adam’s house, I noticed twice as many toys as the last time I was there. Mom said they were gifts from his recent first birthday party. There was an abundance of toys requiring hammers and balls. His mom lamented the fact that she would have preferred educational toys but these were all gifts. Certainly there is educational merit to pound-a-ball toys and basketball hoops. These are “investigative toys” where your child learns to accomplish a task through trial and error and gets the fine and gross motor benefits. There is less language to elicit in these toys since there is not much flexibility or opportunity to change the action as there is with a “pretend” toy like a parking garage or dollhouse. But they have their merit in other developmental areas.

Parents ask me if it is okay to request certain types of toys for gifts, especially as the holidays approach. I say sure. I think grandparents and other relatives would welcome some suggestions. As a grandmother, I like to know what my kids and grandchild can use. Offer a list of books appropriate for your child’s age as suggestions, or give them a few websites like playonwords.com, littlezenminds.com, ebeanstalk.com, fisherprice.com, rightstart.com, or onestepahead.com Most sites allow you to look for toys by age, theme, or gender.

Who says you are too old to write up a list for Santa?

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Toys | Leave a comment