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NYS Parent Guide

36-48 Months: Growth and Development

You and Your Thriving Three-Year-Old

Communicating With Your Child

Communicating With Your Child

Your preschooler’s early reading and writing (literacy) skills are growing. She now can understand and use hundreds of words. She is more aware of print. She might point to words in her favorite book (not having a clue what they say) or pretend to write on paper.

She’s also becoming better at reading body language and what it says about how someone else is feeling. These are all early literacy skills.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Ask lots of “what”, “where” and “why” questions. “What are you doing?” “Where are you going?” “Why do you think the little girl in the picture is sad?” are great conversation starters. Keep your questions simple. And give your toddler time to think. It’s not his answer that matters, but the back-and-forth of the conversation with you!
  • Create fun ways to practice listening. Ask simple 1 and 2 step directions: “Will you please put the truck away, then put on your shoes so we can go out.” Play “Can You Do What I Do?” games with directions such as “Can you touch your nose? Point to your elbow?” Most important of all: listen to her.
  • Expand on what she says. Add to her vocabulary by introducing her to new or unusual words throughout the day. “Yes, that’s a bird! It’s a red cardinal… see the red color?” “Would you like to help me snap off the bottom of the asparagus stem?”
  • Keep asking what, where, why questions. “What else do you think we should put in the salad?” “Where do you want to play in the park?” Why do you think the little cat was so happy to see her mommy in the story?” Remember to give her time to think and respond.
  • Keep the conversation going! The back and forth, give and take of a conversation supports your child’s development in all areas. And it can be fun as you learn more about how your child thinks.
  • Spend time playing word games! Children this age love to play word games with an adult. Start with words (real or made up) that rhyme: “mat, pat, cat, fat, sat” and words that start with the same sound: “bat, big, bug.” You can just sit in a room and say, “What can we find that starts with an ‘ss’ sound?” Use favorite nursery rhymes and familiar children’s songs to point out words that rhyme.
  • Read, read, read! Read her favorite stories again and again. Ask questions about the story or information found in the book. “What do you think is going to happen?” Point out words on some of the pages. Eventually, she will begin to understand that you are reading words not reading “pictures.”
  • Use different “voices” when reading. Make your voice sound happy, sad, tired, excited… whatever the story calls for. This not only helps your child learn language but also learn about feelings—her own and others. It can take a little pretending on your part.
  • Be a model! She is watching and wants to copy what you do. When you do something as simple as search online, order a pizza, or write a grocery list, you show her the importance of reading, writing and talking.
  • Give your child the opportunity to explore with writing tools. Sure, there is a potential mess but with your guidance and presence whatever she is using (crayon, marker, pen, pencil) can easily stay on paper and not the walls. Praise those writing/drawing efforts, which will be simple scribbles at first. With experience however, they will turn into letters.

Useful Resources:

Libraries are a wonderful source of books for preschoolers.

To find your nearest library, visit:

additional resources My E-Journal

Did you know

Children whose parents reported providing more support for early literacy had stronger vocabulary scores in fourth grade. Also the complexity of their language at age three was associated with fourth-grade vocabulary.” DICKINSON & PORSCHE, 2011