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This series of blog posts, Help Your Child Talk, describes how your child develops communication starting from no words up to two-word sentences. This process typically takes at least two years. Each level takes at least three months. This post describes what your child will do by the end of Level 3.

Listen to the podcast for all the activities at Level 3.


We are looking at skills in all areas of development because using speech and language involves many parts of the brain. Development in one area affects skills needed in another area. We must always consider the whole child and avoid an overemphasis on just one area of development.

Use this chart as a checklist and guide for what new skills develop by the end of Level 3. For each skill, you’ll see several activities you can use during daily interactions with your child. All these activities help your child focus on and practice skills needed for effective communication.

Children increase their skills by practicing what they already know and trying a little bit more. At Level 3, children learn they can initiate (start) a familiar social game they’ve done with you in the past.

Your child’s inborn desire to experience new things motivates them to use their muscles and senses to take in as much information as they can. We call this play, but your child is working hard!

Your child can’t move far to get things and can't say what they want, but they can use actions that tell you a lot.

This chart is a checklist of skills that are established by the end of Level 3. Listen to podcast episodes 75 – 114 for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level 3 and get ready for Level 4.


Social interaction is the reason humans communicate. To help your child become an effective communicator, we need to keep interaction as the central focus of our activities.

Your child can stay with an activity comfortably for several minutes. Be aware of your child’s body language that signals comfort and interest.

You and your child are building on the social relationship you established during your Serve and Return interactions since birth. Your child will continue to watch your face closely during new social games, and enjoys playing with a mirror.

You can expand the social games you play, and use them in a variety of situations. Use actions you know your child can make.

Your child will begin to show joint attention—you both give attention to the same object. At this level, joint attention begins with objects your child is touching. You model joint attention by showing attention to their object.

Your child enjoys turn-taking games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. These games help your child learn to expect “what comes next,” an early understanding of cause-and-effect relationships.

Expressing and understanding feelings (affect) is important for effective communication. Your child is showing more variety of affect and noticing that your tone of voice carries meaning about how you feel.


Your child learns about the world through play. They are getting more skilled at using their hands to pick up and explore. They put everything in their mouth, which helps them learn more plus gives them practice using the muscles the need for speech.

Your child will start to show preferences for certain textures, sights and sounds. Use their interests to encourage them to participate with you in back-and-forth play.

Your child will enjoy toys they can make do something—shake to make a sound; push a button to get a movement, light or sound; pull a string to get it to move; open and close a flap; put things in a container and dump them out.

You can help your child develop useful habits for cleaning up and transitioning to a new activity. Encourage your child to help put a toy away when you are done with it and say, “Bye toy” or “All done toy.”

Your child is motivated to move to get objects out of reach. Their wiggling and stretching helps them develop muscles needed for crawling. This is one example of how your child’s internal motivation to explore and play helps them learn skills in all developmental areas.


Understand Words

By the end of Level Three, your child will show you they recognize some words. They’ll look at a nearby person or object when you say their name.

Your child learns words they hear frequently. When you are with your child, notice what they are paying attention to and tell them the name for that object or action.

Children usually look or hesitate in response to the word “no” at this level. It stands out in their experience because you usually say it with strong expression and something surprising often happens when they hear it (like you rush over or take something away).

Using vocal expression can help your child learn other words, too. When you are animated and excited about your topic, you get your child’s attention and help them focus on the important part of your interaction.

Make Meaning

Your child is starting to use different tones of voice, too. You can hear a difference in how they express joy and displeasure, for example.

When you respond to your child’s actions as if they have meaning, they learn they can use their actions to get you to do something. When your child is trying to reach something, you hand them the object. Over time, they learn to reach and look at you because they want you to get it for them.

You child can also request your help to get a toy to do something. They may need help winding up a toy or pushing a button. They may touch your hand or put the toy in your hand to let you know they want help.

This nonverbal request is a big accomplishment! They know how communication works!

When your child uses an action to make a nonverbal request, always respond to the meaning. You can say the word “Help” to model something they’ll be able to say in the future.

Use Speech

Your child’s babbling becomes more varied. They change back and forth between sounds, vary the pitch and loudness, and use different tones of voice.

Your child learns to use their voice to get your attention or get you to come when you are farther away. They also get really good at making a variety of sounds back and forth with you in vocal play.

Back-and-forth play with sounds is a great way to teach your child about how conversations work. We say something, wait for the other person to respond, then respond to that.



Your child can enjoy looking at books alone or with you for several minutes. Use sturdy books made of thick cardboard, cloth or plastic. It’s okay to use regular books when you are looking at them together.

Help your child learn how books work. Turn a page together, point at a picture and say what it is. Encourage your child to do the actions, too.

Your child is learning to recognize two-dimensional objects (pictures). They are learning that a ball can be represented by a picture. This is their first level of understanding symbols!

Words are symbols that represent objects, actions, concepts and big ideas. Looking at books helps your child understand that we can talk about things that are not really present. They need this understanding so they can use words.


Your child’s grasp is developing. Now they can pick up small items by grasping them between their thumb and the rest of their fist. (This probably gives them some reasons for you to be teaching them to respond to “no!”)

Your child needs to practice picking up and holding objects with a variety of sizes, shapes and textures. It’s a good thing they like to play!


In summary, Level Three builds upon the basic Serve and Return interactions you and your child built in Levels One and Two. You are using new gestures and sounds together, but still using them for social interaction.

Your child learns their actions and sounds have effects on their world. They can start to anticipate what comes next in familiar activities, and recognize familiar words.

Play continues to motivate your child to move, explore and learn. Children with limited motor or sensory skills can learn through play when we prove supports and adaptations for them. Consult with specialists as needed—physical therapist, occupational therapist, vision or hearing teacher.

We can enrich the learning opportunities in a child’s environment to help boost their learning. Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level Three and get them ready for Level Four.

  • Be sure to focus on providing enrichment at your child’s current level, and add just a little bit more to show what they can do next.

  • Focus on sharing an interaction together, rather than trying to get your child to do a specific thing.

  • Don’t be tempted to jump ahead as a way to accelerate your child’s development. (You’ll leave gaps.) Use this chart to keep track of what your child is able to do. Focus on building a strong foundation at the current level before you move to the next level.

Next: Level Four




Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

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