Listening and Understanding

New World, New Words

Listening and understanding involves your child paying attention to what someone says and making sense of what was heard.


Peter is playing a game of Simon Says with his parents. Peter loves this game. In a very slow voice his mom says, “Siiimon saaays touuuch your toessss.” Peter listens then touches his toes. In a really fast voice Dad says, “Okay, touch your nose!” Peter touches his nose. “I didn’t say Simon says, Peter. Listen for Simon says before you move.” As his parents continue to take turns giving directions they each go faster and faster until no one can keep up.


Peter has to listen and understand the question in order to produce the correct action. The instructions are simple yet fun enough to keep Peter entertained. Peter is also hearing vocabulary words toes, nose, and touch.

Listening is a very important communication skill to teach your child; it is not a skill that develops naturally. Children this age especially have a great way of using selective listening skills, tuning out the things they do not want to hear.

Your child’s vocabulary expands as he understands what he hears and uses words he hears in his communication with others such as:

- nouns: flower, banana, towel, bath;

- verbs: action verbs (walk, jump), being verbs (I am, you are), helping verbs (Do you need a tissue?), and irregular verbs (The dog bit me, not, The dog bited me.);

- adjectives: pretty, colorful, mad;

- adverbs: quickly, happily.

These types of words are used more in your child’s sentences because they signify a simplified manner of speech in which only the most important words are used to express ideas.

However, some children this age have cognitive limitations on the length of words they can produce. Given these limitations, they sensibly leave out the least important parts but still get their point across. You might hear a your child say, “Adam make tower.” As your child continues to expand his words, he will begin to use prepositions (up, down, below) and pronouns (he, she, you) along with the other words. He will now say, “I (pronoun) will make (verb) my (adjective) tower (noun) on (preposition) grass (noun).”

As you teach your child new words make them concrete by helping him visualize them. If it’s an adjective like scratchy, point out the scratchiness on Dad’s chin. Your three year old’s use of nouns, action verbs, and adjectives allows him to better understand the language he is using. Therefore, communicating with your three year old is one of the most important, pleasurable, and rewarding parts of your parenting experience. The more interactive conversations you have with your child, the more your child will learn to listen; the more you encourage the use of words, the more your child will understand.